Indonesian election season is a gauge of rise of political Islam

Indonesia’s Parliament building in the capital Jakarta. (File Photo: Reuters)
Updated 26 June 2018

Indonesian election season is a gauge of rise of political Islam

JAKARTA: About 100 residents of a gritty commercial district of Indonesia’s capital listen intently as a man roars into a microphone: “Are you ready to change our president? Are you ready for new leadership?“
But this is not a political rally. Dressed in white robes and a turban, Novel Bamukmin of the Jakarta chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hard-line Islamist group, addresses evening prayers in a mosque.
As a year of local and then national elections begins this week in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, some Islamic leaders have emerged as the most vocal opponents of President Joko Widodo, who is expected to seek a second term next year.
They belong to a loose grouping of Islamists behind protests that culminated in the election defeat and jailing for blasphemy in 2017 of Jakarta’s ethnic-Chinese and Christian governor, Basuki TjaHajja Purnama, a Widodo ally.
The case of Purnama, who had said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Qur’an to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim, showed how Islam had crept into politics in the officially secular country.
Widodo has pledged to protect Indonesia’s tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam, and he has banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, a hard-line group with ambitions for an Islamic caliphate.
But a senior government official conceded there are limits to how much the government can control political messaging in mosques.
“Any action against this phenomenon is blasted as anti-Muslim so our actions are restricted,” said the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Change the president’
A former furniture maker and Indonesia’s first president from outside the political and military elite, Widodo — known as Jokowi — has remained popular since he took office in 2014.
He is widely seen as an honest man of the people, rare for a leader in a country where the political class is scorned as corrupt and aloof, and his push for infrastructure and cutting red tape has burnished his image as a hands-on leader.
A recent opinion poll gave him a double-digit lead over the opposition Gerindra party’s Prabowo Subianto, a retired general who is expected to run a second time against Widodo in 2019.
Opponents and hard-line Muslim groups, including the FPI, accuse Widodo of failing to stem income inequality or deliver higher growth, but the most incendiary attacks have often been around religion and ethnicity.
False accusations have spread on social media that the president is not actually Muslim and is a descendant of ethnic Chinese communists.
Widodo has sought to strengthen his ties with moderate Islamic leaders and he recently appointed a controversial hard-line cleric as a communications adviser.
“The only way for the opposition to win is to debunk the argument that Jokowi is one of the masses, and to attack his weakest spot, which is his shyness in showing his religion,” said Achmad Sukarsono, a political analyst at Control Risks.
Ahead of local elections across much of the country on Wednesday, the anti-Widodo sentiment has crystallized into a movement called “#GantiPresiden2019” or “Change the president in 2019.”
The movement’s founder, Mardani Ali Sera, a member of parliament from a conservative Islamic party, says he has no connection with political messaging in mosques.
But he says the majority of those affiliated with his movement are from Islamic parties and the groups that opposed Jakarta’s Christian governor.
“We don’t use mosques but if the hashtag and the movement works for you, then go ahead and use it,” Sera, who is active on social media, told Reuters.
The FPI’s Bamukmin supports the #GantiPresiden2019 movement and said he and other preachers push that message in sermons.
“It is the duty of Muslims to try and replace the current president who has betrayed the country and his religion,” he said, accusing Widodo of “selling the country to foreigners” and “empowering communists and deviant religious sects.”
No campaigning allowed
Indonesia’s election laws prohibit political campaigning in places of worship ahead of polls.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla told media political discussion is allowed in mosques because they are places of education as well as worship, but campaigning is not.
Tens of millions of Indonesians will vote in 171 elections for mayors, regents, and governors on Wednesday, an important barometer ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.
Opinion polls suggest candidates backed by parties supporting Widodo will win in many parts of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, but observers will be watching for signs of Islamist influence.
One man who attended FPI preacher Bamukmin’s sermon in Jakarta this month, said even if clerics were becoming more political, their congregations were smart enough to decide for themselves.
“People just listen to the good points and ignore the rest,” said Huda, 27.


Brexit talks close in on tentative deal before summit

Updated 15 min 10 sec ago

Brexit talks close in on tentative deal before summit

  • Hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details hammered out later
  • Even if a provisional deal is inked this week, moves in the British parliament could still mean another delay to Britain’s departure, currently due to take place on Oct. 31

BRUSSELS: French President Emmanuel Macron said he hopes the European Union and Britain were on the cusp of concluding a tentative Brexit deal that leaders would seek to complete at a summit Thursday.
The French leader said Wednesday that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized and that we can approve it tomorrow,” when EU leaders are meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Brussels.
Hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details hammered out later. Negotiators were locked in EU headquarters with few details leaking out. Wild movements in the British pound on Wednesday underscored the uncertainty over what, if anything, might be decided.
Meetings between EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and key EU legislators as well as with ambassadors of the member nations were rescheduled for the evening — an indication there was still momentum in the ongoing talks among technical teams from both sides.
“It looks like things are moving,” said an EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because talks were still ongoing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, echoed that, saying there is still “a chance of securing a good deal” at the summit, even though a number of issues remain.
The thorniest among them is how goods and people will flow across the land border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK
But Northern Ireland is not the only issue. An eventual withdrawal agreement would be a legal treaty laying out the terms of Britain’s departure and setting up a transition period in which relations would remain as they are now at least until the end of 2020, to give people and businesses time to adjust to new rules. It will guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain, and British nationals living elsewhere in the EU, to continue with their lives.
But it leaves many questions about the future unanswered, and Britain’s departure is sure to be followed by years of negotiations on trade and other issues.
Even if a provisional deal is inked this week, moves in the British parliament could still mean another delay to Britain’s departure, currently due to take place on Oct. 31. It also raises the prospect that the EU needs to hold another Brexit summit before the end of the month.
“The 31st of October is still a few weeks away, and there is a possibility of another summit before that if we need one,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in Dublin.
Adding to the pressure and uncertainty is that any deal must be approved by the British Parliament, which has already rejected agreements three times and has also issued an order that Johnson’s government must seek to delay the departure if a deal isn’t in place by Saturday.
The British government continues to insist the UK will leave on Oct. 31 — but also promises to obey Parliament’s order.
With the need to get Parliament’s approval looming over negotiations, EU leaders are seeking reassurances from Johnson during this week’s summit that he has the political weight to push any new deal through the House of Commons, which is due to meet on Saturday for its first weekend session in almost 40 years. 
The Brexit talks plodded ahead Wednesday, further delaying preparations for the EU summit. Since the weekend, negotiators have been locked in long sessions on how to deal with detailed customs, value-added tax and regulatory issues under British proposals to keep goods and people flowing freely across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“Talks have been constructive, but there still remains a number of significant issues to resolve,” EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after being briefed by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Johnson is eager to strike a deal at Thursday’s summit that will let the UK leave the bloc in good order on Oct. 31, fulfilling his promise to get Brexit done. But he has also vowed to leave the bloc deal or no deal.
UK lawmakers, however, are determined to push for another Brexit delay rather than risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit that economists say could hurt the economies of both the UK and the E.U.
Beyond the questions of disrupting to daily life, an open Irish border underpins both the local economy and the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland. But once Britain exits, that border will turn into an external EU frontier that the bloc wants to keep secure.
The big question is how far Johnson’s government is prepared to budge on its insistence that the UK, including Northern Ireland, must leave the EU’s customs union — something that would require checks on goods passing between the UK and the EU.
The alternative is to have checks in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, the party that props up Johnson’s minority Conservative government, strongly opposes any measures that could loosen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Pro-Brexit Conservative British lawmaker David Davis says success in passing a Brexit deal rests on the stance of the DUP.
“If the DUP says ‘This is intolerable to us’ that will be quite important,” he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party had not yet consented to a deal. She tweeted: “Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support.”