Race and religion, not merits, won the Jakarta Governor Elections

By Dr. Bambang Irawan | 26 April 2017

19 April 2017 saw the victory of Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno in the second round of elections for the next governor of Jakarta. They decisively defeated the incumbent pair, Ahok, the popular name of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, and his deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat. At the quick count in the afternoon of 19 April, Anies-Sandi were already leading by around 18%, and by 20 April, the real count by the Election Commission (KPU) of Jakarta showed that they won by nearly 16%. Ahok-Djarot conceded defeat before the end of the election day and promised to faithfully carry out their duties and ensure a smooth transition to the winning pair in October of this year. 

While most Jakartans and Indonesians were relieved that the election process was smooth and peaceful – thanks to the strong coordination of the police and army – the result was received with mixed feelings among the people of Jakarta. The Jakarta Post called it "the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen." Although Ahok congratulated Anies and asked his supporters to forget the campaign and accept the election result, controversy will continue to surround Anies’ victory. The fact that Ahok-Djarot were the leading pair during the first round, ahead of Anies-Sandi, yet were unable to win the second round, will raise a lot of questions, especially among their supporters and volunteers. Between the first and second rounds, there were important developments that could have influenced the voters’ decision, which I have outlined below.

  1. Ahok's continuing trial for an alleged incident of blasphemy during his campaign at the Thousand Islands region of Jakarta may have changed the minds of some moderate Muslims. While they do not care too much about the alleged blasphemy, they fear that Ahok has become ignorant, arrogant, and insensitive towards Islam. Some also quoted a verse of the Al Quran that says that Muslims should never vote for a non-Muslim leader, which also affected the decision of many Muslims in Jakarta. Ahok’s inability to convince Muslims that he did not mean any offense to Islam or the Al Quran may have hurt his chances.
  2. The Islamic People Forum (FUI), most likely supported by the militant Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), organised a rally called “Aksi 313” on 31 March 20171, supposedly a peaceful rally of Muslims getting together for Friday prayers at the largest mosque in Jakarta. While this was not as large and damaging as the previous one in December last year, it could have added to the anti-Ahok sentiment which was rising among even the educated, moderate Muslims. Supporters of Agus Yudhoyono and Sylviana Murni who lost in the first round last February, “Aksi 313” could have swung their votes to Anies-Sandi instead of to Ahok-Djarot.
  3. The two live debates between the remaining candidates were relatively even. Most viewers actually thought that Ahok and Djarot performed marginally better because they had actually done the work as incumbents while Anies and Sandi could only criticise and propose their own programs that could be successful, or unsuccessful, when implemented.
  4. Anies and Sandi, who previously portrayed themselves as moderate Muslims, had become closer to the radicals who demanded Ahok’s arrest. They attended events organised by those who are seen to be very close to the leaders of FPI and other Islamic groups. They even dressed as “real” Muslims, wearing the black “peci” or cap, basically looking and behaving very Islamic. They both publicly approached the well-known Islamic leaders, gaining their support and convincing them that as they themselves were Muslims, they are the logical choice to lead Jakarta
  5. Jokowi’s rival at the presidential election in 2014, Prabowo Subianto, who supported Anies-Sandi, made several videos and posted them on the internet to advocate respect among religions and support pluralism, which could be seen as an attempt to neutralise the sentiment that Anies-Sandi were appeasing the Muslim radicals and seen as not in favour of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” or unity in diversity, the national motto of Indonesia. The videos seemed to be successful in convincing the non-Muslims that they would not be threatened, sidelined or marginalised.
  6. There were rumours that supporters of Ahok-Djarot distributed “sembako” or basic staple foods in some parts of Jakarta shortly before the election day. While it is unknown how true these rumours are they may have tarnished the incumbent pair's image as they have always attempted to build an image of clean, honest and good governance. However, based on their track record they probably would not have resorted to such tactics to win the people’s heart.

In terms of the programs that Anies-Sandi offered to manage the capital city, they have made many promises. The popular news portal, www.detik.com, has listed 23 promises made by the pair, covering issues such as the city’s infrastructure and public facilities, community development through arts and sports, women empowerment and protection, better access to education and health facilities through the Jakarta Smart Card (KJP Plus)2 and Jakarta Health Card (KJS Plus)3, good governance through use of technology (by Jakarta becoming a smart city), and higher affordability for basic needs. Some of these promises are based on what Jokowi and Ahok had initiated as governors of Jakarta.

Anies-Sandi had to come up with something new and original, besides the religion-card, to win the elections. Perhaps the most controversial one is the promise to provide housing facilities with zero down payment for the lower segment of the society. Whether this can be realised or not remains to be seen but some experts have raised their doubts on who will be eligible for this scheme, and whether it violates the law and may disrupt the financial system. Both Bank Indonesia as the central bank and the Financial Services Authority (OJK) have refused to comment on this idea and prefer to see how things develop in the coming weeks.

What can now be expected from Anies-Sandi when they take over the leadership of Jakarta in October 2017? For sure, given the high standard set by Ahok (and before him, Jokowi), they will have a great challenge before them in realising their promises and creating good and clean governance for Jakarta. Even Prabowo has suggested that Anies-Sandi cannot afford to make one single mistake when they later take over as governor and deputy governor. Below are the three key issues that Anies-Sandi need to pay attention if they wish to remain favourable and maintain a high rating of their leadership:

  1. They need to convince the people that they will serve all Jakartans, and not just the Muslims as they have showed thus far to win the election. This will be challenging as the hardliners may feel that Anies-Sandi owe them for the victory, and may start to demand for policies that favour Muslims and disregard the others. If Anies cannot show that he is the governor for everyone, support for him will disappear very quickly.
  2. Clean and good governance is something that Ahok and Jokowi had been fighting for to end the inefficient (and most of the time, corrupt) way of managing Jakarta. Ahok had made a lot of enemies when working towards cleaning up the system under the Jakarta government. Anies unfortunately does not have a good record as a high rank government official (first Minister of Education in Jokowi’s cabinet) and Sandi was a businessman before without any experience working in the government. Failure to show commitment and action in fighting corruption and nepotism may put them in a delicate situation.
  3. Fulfilling campaign rhetorics is definitely much harder than making them. It seems now that many Jakartans from the lower economic segment are having high hopes of owning a house despite not having any savings or means of paying. This is going to be very difficult and the governor’s attention could be directed too much to this to prove that it is not an empty promise. Working with the relevant authorities and financial actors may be very challenging if the governor fails to convince them to collaborate.

Now that Ahok will remain a governor for the next six months, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him. He still has to deal with the blasphemy case, and chances are the court may find him guilty though he may not have to be imprisoned. This remains to be seen. The radicals have continued to advocate for him to be found guilty, although they are not as pressing as before, perhaps because a Muslim has already won the election.

The President has stated that he can work with whoever wins the gubernatorial election. However, given their “soured” relationship due to Anies’s sacking in Jokowi’s first cabinet reshuffle, it remains to be seen how the relationship will develop, particularly since Anies-Sandi are backed by Jokowi’s political rivals. Some believe that the fall of Ahok is the first step to ousting Jokowi, as he has made many enemies with his policies on fighting shady business agreements involving government spending. It has been suggested that even some Chinese Indonesian business magnates are not happy with Jokowi and Ahok meddling with their business, and they were involved in the movement to topple these two friends. This has not been proven yet, maybe it never will, but right now Jokowi is still in a relatively strong position as he has been backed up by PDI-P, Megawati’s strong political party. Jokowi has even managed to attract some political parties who used to support Prabowo to join PDI-P in his coalition of parties supporting the government. He will continue to fight corruption and run the government in his style. Ahok’s reputation still makes him popular and perhaps it won’t be surprising if Jokowi later decides to invite Ahok to join the cabinet when the blasphemy case is over.

As for Jakarta, the fact that the election took place relatively smoothly should be a good start for Jakarta’s future. It is only fair to give a chance to the winners to prove themselves worthy of leading the capital. However, expectations are high and every time Anies creates a policy it will be compared with Ahok's policies. A popular saying in Indonesia by former leaders when things do not go well with the incumbent is “masih enak jamanku toh?” which literally means “it was better in my time, wasn’t it?” No incumbent wants to hear that. It is safe to say that Anies and Sandi will definitely have a tough time delivering on their promises.

1 This was following the “Aksi 212” on 2 December 2016 organized by FPI to call for Ahok’s arrest for the blasphemy case.
2 KJP and KJS are actually initiatives from Jokowi and Ahok when they were elected to lead Jakarta back in 2012. Anies and Sandi plan to expand the coverage of the two cards and rename them KJP Plus and KJS Plus, respectively.
3 Ibid

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