Posts Tagged ‘Jokowi

He has stressed upon development and democracy, but it remains to be seen whether he will he abjure faith-based politics.


Sitting in his limousine, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo or Jokowi, as he is popularly known as, rolled out a 32-second-long video message on Twitter on June 10. He said in Bahasa, “Let’s join hands, unite, and put our mind and energy to build a developed Indonesia.”

Ever since Widodo got re-elected for a second term last month, his focus has been on development. But soon after his re-election, he faced disruptions. As the final election results were declared, riots broke out in the capital city of Jakarta for over two days, killing eight people and injuring seven hundred others. Early reports suggest that apart from a group of paid thugs, members of the militant Islamist group, Front Pemuda Islam, attacked the police with rocks and petrol bombs.

Interestingly, these hardline Islamists supported Jokowi’s opponent, the former army commander, Prabowo Subianto. The grand imam of FPI, Habib Rizieq Shihab, addressed his election rally from Saudi Arabia via video call. Analysts call Prabowo and Shihab ‘bedfellows’, united by a common enemy — Widodo.

Widodo’s win could create trouble for the FPI. Its status as a legally registered social organization expires today, and there are chances that its appeal for re-registration would be rejected. Public pressure is mounting on authorities to do so. A petition called ‘Stop the Permit of FPI’, filed by Ira Bisyir at, has received over 4,81,665 signatures so far.

In this last term, analysts say that Widodo would give a fresh push to his liberal and progressive image, which was largely compromised earlier. In his previous term, the “hard-metal-loving secularist” failed to protect free speech, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and those of LGBTs. But Indonesians still pinned their hopes on him. They preferred to choose a ‘moderate’ Widodo, representative of ‘pluralist’ Indonesia, over a ‘conservative’ Subianto, representative of a ‘hardline Islamist’ Indonesia. Clearly, this is a positive shift from the faith-based politics, which is thriving elsewhere.

For example, across the Indian Ocean, Australia, a country whose politics has long been secular, recently re-elected the 51-year-old conservative, Scott Morrison, as prime minister. In 2008, while he was delivering his maiden speech in Parliament, he said that he derived the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness from his ‘faith’. While quoting the American senator, Joe Lieberman, who had said, “the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not from religion,” Morrison asserted at the same event, “I believe the same is true in this country.” In April this year, Morrison, who holds regressive views on immigration and same-sex marriage, invited television cameras to film his Easter Sunday service at a church.

A similar trend is visible in India, which has re-elected the 68-year-old Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi. Like Morrison, Modi loves to wear his religion on his sleeve. A day before the last phase of the general election, Modi invited television cameras to film him meditating inside a cave near the Kedarnath shrine. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which rose to power by playing divisive faith-based politics, won 303 seats in Parliament. On the day of his victory, Modi had tweeted, “India wins yet again.” Perhaps he was referring to the India that has lapped up his politics of religious identity and Hindu majoritarianism.

Faith-based politics has played a leading role in the politics of neighbouring Bangladesh too. Bangladesh re-elected Sheikh Hasina Wajed last year. Wajed, a ‘secular’ leader, has been wooing the radical Islamist group, Hefazat-e-Islam, for many years. She introduced religious education in government schools, edited out poems and stories that conservative Islamists deemed atheistic and also recognized the Qawmi Madrasa degrees. In return, the Islamist group’s head, Shah Ahmed Shafi, bestowed the honorific, ‘Qawmi Janani (mother of the qaum)’, upon Wajed. Like Wajed, who hobnobbed with the Islamists to garner the support of the large Qawmi Madrasa populace, Widodo chose the conservative cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate to strengthen his candidacy’s Islamic credentials.

Now that Widodo has been re-elected, questions have been raised regarding his present term by his constituents who gave him a second chance. He has stressed upon development and democracy, but will he abjure faith-based politics? Will he revive the vanishing, tolerant Indonesian Islam? How is he going to do all this with Amin — he issued a fatwa opposing religious pluralism, liberalism and secularism — as vice-president?

But what if Widodo adopts the political strategy of the leaders in his neighbourhood? What if he becomes like Morrison, someone who doesn’t like being labelled a ‘fundamentalist’ but has reservations about gay rights? Or like Wajed, who calls herself ‘secular’ but appeases religious extremists? Or, perhaps, like Modi, who talks of ‘inclusive’ India but doesn’t bat an eyelid when minorities get lynched on the streets?

This piece was published in The Telegraph on June 20, 2019.



By Sonia Sarkar

JAKARTA — On Saturday evening, thousands of men and women cheered as rock band Radja played at the last public rally of the incumbent Indonesian president Joko Widodo at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno stadium. Widodo, a well-known metalhead and Metallica fan, laced this musical campaign with ‘sholawatan’, traditional songs of praise and devotion to the Prophet Muhammad.

A week before, at the same venue, his rival, Prabowo Subianto, organized a mass prayer for his supporters, many of them Muslim clerics. The Rizieq Shihab of the moralist radical group, The Islamic Defenders Front, addressed the crowd via a video message from Saudi Arabia.

Indonesians will vote in their presidential election on April 17, and religion is a rallying point for the major political parties.  Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, joined hands with the 75-year-old conservative cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, to fight Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno. The duo is supported by over 10 Muslim organizations, including the disbanded extremist group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which wants Caliphate in the country.

Jokowi is off to Mecca for a visit before the elections Wednesday. So is Uno, but media reports said he will also be making a special visit to Indonesian Islamist scholar Rizieq Shihab who lives there in Saudi Arabia.

A secular country with over 260 million people, more than 85 percent of them Muslim, is slowly turning conservative. Religious groups of all kinds – mainstream, regressive and fundamentalists – seem to influence the electoral choice of the people. So politicians too are turning to religious groups for their support, experts say.

“Religious identity has become something very important in contemporary Indonesian politics,” Bandung-based political scientist Hikmawan Saefullah said. “There is an attempt by conservative religious groups to assert the idea that Islam should play a key role in Indonesian politics. Politicians are simply playing to the gallery.”


Even Jokowi, who won the last election as a “liberal” and “progressive,” is now turning towards a religious icon in Amin.  Being a senior leader of the mass Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and quasi-state body MUI (Indonesian Ulama Council), Amin is like a certificate showing proof Jokowi is a “good” Muslim. In fact, in one of the recent poll campaigns, Amin claimed that Jokowi is also a santri, a student of an Islamic boarding school.

“Even though Jokowi is politically secular, he has worked at co-opting religious identity as a political tactic in order to both fend religious-based attacks from his opponents, and also to help secure support and votes from mass religious organizations,” said Indonesian observer Ian Douglas Wilson, a lecturer at Australia-based Murdoch University.

Indeed, instead of challenging the growing influence of conservative and reactionary Islamists in the society, Jokowi is becoming an active participant in the game. He joined hands with a man who is against the spirit of democracy. “As the head of the MUI, Amin had issued a fatwa [in 2005] opposing religious pluralism, liberalism and secularism which has had a negative impact upon Indonesia’s progressive Islamic landscape,” Wilson pointed out.

Amin is also the same man who had sent Jokowi’s close friend and former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnamato, a Christian, to prison for blasphemy by testifying in the court two years ago. One of the main reasons for bringing Amin into his fold is to dispel rumors spread by the opposition camp that he is not a pious Muslim and will ban azan, the amplified call for prayer from mosques, if voted to power.


“Every time, people say, Jokowi is not a pious Muslim, he will ban azan if voted to power again, we have to say, that’s not true, he is a good Muslim,” Amin’s 29-year-old granddaughter Syaikha Aulia said. “Even his mother is a good Muslim, she prays five times a day.”

Aulia is running Jokowi-Amin’s campaign to millennials.

Amin may have managed to convince moderate Muslims to vote for Jokowi, but hardliners aren’t just going to Jokowi because of Amin.

“Conservative hardliners are not convinced if Jokowi supports their aspirations or his alliance with Amin is just a poll tactic,” Saefullah said. “They are with Prabowo because he promised them that he will guarantee their political aspiration.”

Even though Prabowo didn’t pick up Salim Segaf or Abdul Somad as his running mate, as suggested by Rizieq’s Islamic Defenders Front and other conservative groups, the president of the Islamist party PKS (Justice and Welfare Party) called Uno a “post-Islamism santri,” meaning he is devout but doesn’t exhibit signs of piety. The fact is, Uno, a wealthy businessman, studied at a Catholic school.

Interestingly, a lot of young men and women, support the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair for their immense fan following of the FPI and HTI. These groups have called for a ban of same-sex relationships. There is an increase in moral policing on the streets, night clubs and social media asking the youth to be good Muslims. Hijrah, also called hejira (referring to Prophet Muhammed’s flight from persecution), communities have popped up across the country to help young Indonesians leave all the vices of life, read the Quran and become pious.

A poster of Tabligh Akbar praying for the Prabowo-Sandiaga Uno alliance. Photo by Sonia Sarkar.

A poster of Tabligh Akbar praying for the Prabowo-Sandiaga Uno alliance. Photo by Sonia Sarkar.


Political observers believe, the Islamists of Indonesia started emerging stronger during the 2014 presidential elections. There was a smear campaign against Jokowi, then governor of Jakarta, questioning if he is a genuine Muslim. He won with a margin of about six percent after a hard-fought campaign, but the Islamist groups never fell silent.

Soon after Jokowi left his post as governor to take up the presidency, his deputy Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was to assume office. But Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian, faced huge resentment from large sections of people. Islamists led a vitriolic campaign against him in 2016. The Friday sermons at the mosques were full of hate speech and people were actually threatened not to vote for Ahok.

The anti-Ahok demonstrations gave birth to the “212 movement”, which had Amin at the helm issuing a fatwa against Ahok saying that his citation of a particular Quranic verse during his election campaign defamed Islam. During his election campaign for governor, Ahok had said people were deceived if they believed that the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for non-Muslim politicians. Ahok was sent to prison for blasphemy for “degrading Islam.” The anti-Ahok movement of 2016-17 led to the formation of the 212 Alumni Brotherhood (or PA212) and the National Movement to Safeguard the Fatwa of Ulama (GNPF-U). After serving two years in prison, Ahok was released in January 2019, which angered many Islamists.

The Islamists were also not happy to see Amin joining hands with Jokowi. Jokowi tried to consolidate mainstream Islamic parties and organizations to split the Islamist coalition that made the 212 movement successful, analysts say.

Prabowo sought support of the hardliners instead. In September 2018, the conservative Muslim body Ketua Gerakan Nasional Pengawal Fatwa Ulama (GNPF-U) held a conference where Prabowo signed a 17-point Integrity Pact with Muslim scholars and activists where he promised to uphold religious values, pay attention to “religious people’s interests” and guarantee the return of cleric Rizieq Shihab, who was chased by the Jokowi government over a pornography case, though the police later suspended their search.

Prabowo’s has been hobnobbing with Islamists for many years now. As a former army general, he was known to be a member of the green military faction, with generals who were close to, and supported, Islamic groups. The red-white faction of the military comprised generals who took a neutral position, not siding with either Islam or the state.

Now the Jokowi-Amin pair is also trying to win votes from Islamic groups. They are promising religious education institutions will be given the responsibility of providing “national character education.”  Also in the works is a special “santripreneur” program, an initiative between Islamic boarding schools and the business sector.

“Ma’ruf Amin’s approach is extremely progressive,” a Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) official said. “His purpose is to give education and empower the youth.”

Interestingly, the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair has also promised to increase the quality of religious schools in the country, establish a haj-focused financial institution and even negotiate with the government of Saudi Arabia to allow Indonesia to build its own accommodation there for pilgrims. Plus, it has asserted, if voted to power, it would protect religious leaders, groups and Muslim clerics, citing their significant contribution to win the country’s independence.

But Wilson feels, all this is an attempt by Prabowo to tell people he is a pious Muslim, and he would dump the extremist Islamic groups later.

“If voted to power, it is unlikely Prabowo will grant hardliners the kinds of concessions they are hoping for,” he said. “After the elections, these groups may have to look at developing another set of alliances with political elites if they wish to remain politically relevant.”

Sonia Sarkar is an Indian journalist who writes on South and Southeast Asia.

This piece appeared in Religion Unplugged on April 16, 2019

The septuagenarian conservative cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, running for the post of vice-president woos Indonesian millennial this elections.

The young Indonesians got their own superman this election. It is the 75-year-old conservative cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, the running mate of the incumbent President Joko Widodo. An animated image of Amin, dressed in the iconic blue superman costume with a flowing red cape, flying up in the air, has gone viral on social media. The Instagram page of Ma’ruf Amin’s publicist, ‘Remaja Official,’ calls him #SuperUlama. The caption says, “He is the person who seeks to unite the nation and he is very worthy of being called #SuperAbah.” Amin is fondly called ‘Abah (father)’ by his unyoung followers.


Amin could be the oldest candidate in the fray in the Indonesian elections this year but he is trying to establish a strong connect with the 80 million millennial voters. It is this all-millennial group, ‘Remaja’ (teenager) run by his grand-daughter Syaikha Aulia, is in-charge of designing his campaign exclusively for the first-time voters and the youth. They aim to counter the opposition’s argument that Amin is a bad choice for the youth because he is old.

“My ‘kakek’ (grandfather) is more energetic than any other candidate,” a confident 29-year-old Syaikha Aulia says. “He is trying to reach out to the millennial in every corner of the country to tell them he is not an ‘old’ man, and he can do a lot for them.”

Aulia’s ‘Remaja,’ consisting of 5,900 men and women volunteers between the age of 17-30 years spread across 24 provinces in Indonesia, are working 24×7 for Amin. This two-storey house at Jalan Tebet Timur Dalam in south Jakarta is her “base camp.” It is this place where the campaign for the millennial is conceptualized. Creative teams make music videos, comic strips and animation films to get the young voters into their fold. They turn Amin’s campaigns into a carnival of colour and music. His slogan is – “Remaja Cheria, Jokowi-Ma’ruf –Menang, Menang, Menang (Cheers, Teenagers, Jokowi-Ma’ruf, win, win, win)!

It’s five o’ clock in the evening. A bunch of 15-odd young women are trying hard to match steps with their choreographer, a hard taskmaster. The song played on a loop is – “Kawan – dengarkan lagu, suara millennial, hanya millennial satu, yang ter baik urkutmu, salam Ibu Jari (Friends, listen to the song, the voice of the millennial, only choose 01, who is the best for you, Salam Ibu Jari.” Every time, it plays out, salaam Ibu Jari, the dancers shake their thumb, in a certain rhythm. Thumb is the symbol of Jokowi and Amin and 01 is the number of the Jokowi-Amin pair. This is a rehearsal of a campaign video which will soon be posted on its Instagram page, “Remaja Official,” which has over 10.1 K followers. The same will be played out to the young audience during campaigning.

Amin’s social media campaign is hip and happening too with hashtags such as #Abahkita, #RemajaCheria, #SuperAbah, #SalamIbujari, #AbahKita(#OurAbah) #RelawanMilennialJokowiMaruf (VolunterMillennialJokowiMa’ruf) and #KarenaCamuCuma01 (because you are just 01).

Remaja, since its inception in October last year, roped in various youth clubs of DJs, bikers, dancers, artists and ghost hunters for campaigning. A celebrity dancer, Calvin Ananda, with over 24.2 K followers on Instagram, says he became part of Remaja because he “sees hope” in Amin. He is one of the many celebrities, who dressed in white jackets with ‘01’ embossed on them, make an appeal to voters to vote for the Jokowi-Amin pair via video.

A technocrat who spends his after work hours helping the online team develop content says, “Our ‘Abah’ is the most respectful public figure in Indonesia. There is none who can deny it. It was a moral responsibility to be part of his campaign.”

His work is mostly in one of the rooms on the first floor, technically the “war” room. The team here fights the social media hoaxes against Amin 24×7. In 2017, Amin himself, as Indonesian Ulema Council chairman, said, the Council will issue a fatwa declaring the spread of bogus stories to be “un-Islamic.” This election, he went ahead and coined a slogan to fight fake news or hoax. It says – “Kita tidak boleh memfitnah, tidak boleh hoax, tidak boleh, mengelek-jelakan orang lain, kita tedap menjaga kesantunan (“We must not slander, we can’t spread the hoax, we can’t be rubbing on others, we are prepared to maintain modesty).”

Ulama -- hoax

Image of #SuperAbah. Source: Instagram page of Remaja Official.Amin

The caption says : Adhesive for one nation.

Pic Credit: Facebook Page of Remaja Official.


Image: Syaikha Aulia with her ‘Remaja’ team

Syaikha Aulia at the Remaja “base camp,” in Jakarta

Mural of Jokowi-Amin on the outer wall of base camp.

Merchandise sold at Nahdlatul Ulama office

Pic Credit: Sonia Sarkar

One of the biggest rumours, Aulia says, spread by the opposition camp is, Amin is old and therefore, won’t do anything for the youth. Indeed,  his age is standing as the biggest impediment for his chances to win, especially because his opponent, Sandiagao Uno, the running mate of Prabowo Subianto is just 49-year-old. “We are not contesting that he is old. But age means nothing for him. To counter such arguments, we are posting his videos of relentless campaigning on the streets for 12-14 hours,” tells Aulia. “Plus he has a vision because he is experienced,” she adds.

Not many would agree because his “vision” so far has been regressive. In 2017, he testified against the Christian governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama  in court and thereby sending him to jail on charges of blasphemy. To counter the perception that Amin is anti-Christian, Aulia has roped in many Christians in her group.

But a 2018 Human Rights Watch report states, Amin has been a vocal supporter of fatwas, or religious edicts decrees, against the rights of religious minorities, including the country’s Ahmadiyah and Shia communities, as well lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Those fatwas, although not legally binding, have been used to legitimize increasingly  hateful rhetoric by government officials against LGBT people and in some cases, fuelled  deadly violence by militant Islamists against religious minorities.”

Such criticism hasn’t deterred Amin though.  In one of the recent televised debates, Amin trotted out Arabic phrases to seek applause from his supporters and reached out to the youth promising employment to them. According to him, three special cards will be introduced if Jokowi and he are voted to power, one of which would be a pre-employment card that will help the unemployed youth for 6-12 months before obtaining a job.

Over a cuppa of tea at tea parties called ‘Tebar Ma’ruf,’ (Spread goodness with Ma’ruf), he promises them – startups and vocational training. Amongst those invited are the ‘santris’ (Islamic boarding school students) – his strong vote base. Amin, the Islamic scholar, headed two important positions: rais aam (president) of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation’s largest Muslim organisation; and chairman of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), the state-endorsed body for issuing rulings on Islamic issues.

These boarding schools are mostly run by the NU.  Even though it claims to be apolitical, it has been selling merchandise such as T’shirts and helmets with Amin’s face embossed on them. Putri Widya Dwi Inanti, the  shop in-charge at the NU office in Jakarta’s Jalan Kramat Raya, says, “The sale of the merchandise has increased by 30 per cent in the past one month.”

Not in helmet or a tee, but Amin, dressed in the traditional batik sarong and a pair of white sneakers, at a televised debate recently, gave out a strong message  — he may be old but he isn’t going anywhere, not just yet!