The recent election defeat of Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) raises important questions about whether the Indonesian president Joko Widodo (Jokowi) will also fall to the forces of right wing populism. Jokowi is up for reelection in 2019 and will likely face the same coalition of parties that defeated Ahok. As other scholars have noted, the same forces of class, ethnicity, religion, and their interplay will likely feature in the 2019 election.
Ahok’s opponent, Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno, rallied all the forces of intolerance: mass mobilisation by the vigilante group Front Pembela Islam and the Islamist Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), a rumor campaign that millions of Chinese were coming to Indonesia illegally and that voters for Ahok would not be buried in Muslim cemeteries, bogus allegations that Ahok had committed blasphemy against Islam, and Baswedan himself comparing the election to the 624 CE Battle of Badr when the prophet Muhammad faced an army of non-Muslims. We should expect to see these tactics again in 2019, when President Jokowi will likely run against former Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto and possibly against Baswedan himself.
There is reason to worry about the future of Indonesia’s democracy. The world is in the midst of democratic instability and decline. Military coups in Thailand and Egypt have pushed those counties firmly into authoritarianism. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is no longer a democracy. The victory of elected strongmen in the Philippines and even the United States bodes poorly for the future of democracy. Will Indonesia fall sway to the machinations of an autocrat like Prabowo?
Jeremy Menchik’s research interests include comparative politics, religion and politics, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. He is also the author of Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance Without Liberalism. At Boston University he is a member of the graduate faculty of political science and coordinates the MAIA program with specialization in Religion and International Affairs.