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.”


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 16 min 49 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.