–Stefanus Hendrianto, Boston College
After many months of speculation, the candidates for the 2019 Indonesian presidential election announced their choice of running mates on August 9, 2018. The incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who ran on the platform of diversity and social equality, chose the 75-years-old conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate. Meanwhile, Jokowi’s arch nemesis, General Prabowo Subianto, will run with a young investment banker-turned-politician: Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno.
Both Jokowi and Subianto made a surprising twist in choosing their running mates. When Jokowi began his political career as a Mayor of Solo, he picked a Christian politician as his running mate, and he later picked a Christian of Chinese-descent as his Vice Governor of Jakarta. In the 2014 Presidential Election, he ran on the same ticket with a businessman cum politician, Jusuf Kalla. Surprisingly, for the upcoming presidential election, Jokowi picked a running mate who has a robust anti-pluralism record. Amin, who has been the chairman of Indonesia’s Ulama Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, or MUI), and the supreme leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama, has played a pivotal role in fueling discrimination and persecution against religious minorities in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, Subianto also made a dramatic move in picking his running mate. Subianto is a former top General, with strong links to Islamists and two major Islamist parties supported him, the Indonesian Prosperous Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera –PKS) and the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional –PAN). Subianto’s coalition partners had strongly recommended that he pick an Islamic cleric as his running mate. But in the end, Subianto ignored the recommendation made by Islamist groups that he choose the celebrity Islamic preacher Abdul Somad as his running mate. Instead, Subianto chose a western-educated investor, Sandiaga Uno.
Some people are lamenting the fact that the upcoming presidential election is likely to be dull as it will be merely a rematch of the 2014 election when the then-political outsider Jokowi defeated Subianto, who has deep ties to Indonesia’s business and military elite. But the primary problem is that the 2019 presidential election offers no real choice to the people. On the one hand, as Jokowi picked a hard-line cleric as his running mate, many of his supporters are feeling conflicted about the decisions of a man who rode into office back in 2014 as a reformer and the advocate of pluralism. Thus, they are debating whether to sit out the election to protest against a vice- presidential pick who is widely known for his many abusive fatwas against minorities. On the other hand, the Subianto-Uno ticket does not offer a better choice. Subianto himself is linked with past human rights abuses, while his running mate also has a tainted record. Uno played a pivotal role plotting the campaign to oust then-incumbent Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaya Purnama in the 2017 gubernatorial election, which was marred by divisive, sectarian, and racial rhetoric.
The lack of a credible contender in next year’s election would, indeed, raise questions about Indonesia’s young democracy. Analysts believe that political parties focusing on patronage-style politics rather than the pursuit of an ideological agenda or reform have led to a dearth of potential presidential candidates. But the biggest culprit is a Constitutional Court that both created the current crisis and failed to intervene to resolve it.
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