Muslim-majority Indonesia set for polls

Most polls show incumbent Indonesian President Joko Widodo holds a double-digit lead over main rival Prabowo Subianto, a former general. (AP)
Updated 15 April 2019

Muslim-majority Indonesia set for polls

  • Indonesia has more than 190 million voters and 245,000 candidates vying for the presidency, parliament and local positions
  • Most polls show the incumbent Joko Widodo holding a double-digit lead over Prabowo Subianto, a former general

JAKARTA: Dipping their fingers in halal ink to prevent double voting, Indonesians cast their ballots Wednesday in a bitterly contested presidential election, with the main rival to incumbent Joko Widodo already threatening to challenge the result over voter-fraud claims.
The Muslim-majority nation’s biggest-ever polls — with more than 190 million voters and 245,000 candidates vying for the presidency, parliament and local positions — is largely a referendum on Widodo’s infrastructure-driven bid to rev up Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
But, looming in the background, two decades of democratic gains are at risk of being eroded, analysts said, as the military creeps back into civilian life under Widodo, and his trailing rival Prabowo Subianto, a former general, eyes reforms that harken back to the Suharto dictatorship.
If he loses, Subianto’s camp has already warned it will challenge the results over voter-list irregularities.
“It’s high stakes in this election,” said Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We simply don’t know what (Subianto) would do if he won and we don’t know if the institutional constraints in place would contain him.”
Voting starts at 7:00 am local time Wednesday (2200 GMT Tuesday) in easternmost Papua and ends at 1:00 p.m. at the other end of the country in Sumatra.
Ballots will be cast at more than 800,000 polling booths across the volcano-dotted country, from the tip of jungle-clad Sumatra and heavily populated Java island to beach paradise Bali and far-flung Sumbawa.
Voters will punch holes in ballots — to make clear their candidate choice — and then dip a finger in Muslim-approved halal ink, a measure to prevent double-voting in a graft-riddled country where ballot buying is rife.
A series of so-called “quick counts” are expected to give a reliable indication of the presidential winner later Wednesday. Official results are not expected until May.
Most polls show the 57-year-old Widodo holding a double-digit lead over Subianto, 67, setting up a repeat of their 2014 contest, which Widodo won despite an unsuccessful court challenge over his narrow victory.
The race has been punctuated by bitter mudslinging between the two camps, religion-driven identity politics and a slew of fake news online that threatens to sway millions of undecided voters.
Widodo campaigned on his ambitious drive to build roads, airports and other infrastructure, including Jakarta’s first mass-rapid-transit system.
But his rights record has been criticized owing to an uptick in discriminatory attacks on religious and other minorities, including a small LGBT community, as Islamic hard-liners become more vocal in public life.
“(Widodo) has chosen pragmatism over principle on issues of Islamism and pluralism,” said Dave McRae, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute.
Widodo, a practicing Muslim, blunted criticism that he was anti-Islam by appointing influential cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.
But victory for Widodo and Amin — known for his disparaging views toward minorities — could be the latest knock to Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam.
“There is a longstanding track record of very conservative views,” Kevin O’Rourke, an Indonesia-based political risk analyst, said of Amin.
“It’s inevitable that will affect policy making.”
Subianto — joined by running mate Sandiaga Uno, a 49-year-old wealthy financier — has run on a fiery nationalist ticket.
He courted Islamic hard-liners, promised a boost to military and defense spending and, taking a page from US President Donald Trump, vowed to put “Indonesia first” as he pledged to review billions of dollars in Chinese investment.
Subianto’s presidential ambitions have long been dogged by strong ties to the Suharto family and a checquered past.
He ordered the abduction of democracy activists as the authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998, and was accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.
Widodo’s own cabinet is stuffed with Suharto-era figures, and he raised eyebrows by agreeing to give civilian government jobs to military brass.
But “there is no grand design for Jokowi to bring back military rule,” Laksmana said.
Subianto, however, is a military man keen to roll back reforms that ushered in direct presidential elections, analysts said.
That has raised questions about what an upset victory for the retired general could mean for a system that is supported by most Indonesians.
“Democracy itself would be very much at stake,” O’Rourke said.
“This is a low probability scenario, but one with very high impact.”
Many Indonesians just want a peaceful power transition — regardless of the winner.
“I hope there’s no hostility,” said 53-year-old Untung Sri Rejeki.
“No matter who becomes our next president.”


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.