Idul Fitri came early at hundreds of mosques in the capital as their congregations chanted takbir (praise to Allah) and lit firecrackers until late on Wednesday in celebration of a new dawn after Anies Baswedan, the gubernatorial candidate backed by conservative and hard-line Muslim groups, swept closer to leading Jakarta.
Anies, supported by the opposition camp, delivered a crushing defeat, according to quick counts by all pollsters, on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ally and incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent.
The election, deemed the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive campaign the country has ever held, will serve as a precedent for the 2019 presidential election.
Mosques spearheaded the campaign at the grassroots level in support of Anies despite electoral law prohibiting places of worship from being used as campaign venues. Politicized sermons during Friday prayers, along with smear campaigning are now widely tolerated.
These tactics will unfortunately become the new normal for any politicians vying to get elected as regional leaders, or even to clinch the presidency amid a growth in Islamic conservatism.
Losing Jakarta as a result of these tactics has sent a chilling message to Jokowi and his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), long perceived as the personification of the political vehicle for non-Muslim and secular voters.
With exactly two years left until the simultaneous presidential and legislative election, Jokowi is exposed to greater risk in his attempts to get reelected unless he succeeds in neutralizing the proliferating sectarian playbook.
Jokowi’s electability at 58 percent, as indicated by several pollsters last month, will not guarantee him a victory in his bid for reelection, particularly when his influence failed to help Ahok win over more voters.
Forging an alliance with the country’s largest and moderate Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and strengthening its financial and management capacity will help Jokowi craft the narrative that he is a good Muslim amid the stereotype constructed by his rivals that he practices Javanese mysticism or that he is pro-China and even pro-communist.
The role of the National Awakening Party (PKB), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic party in the House of Representatives with the NU constituency at its core, will play an even greater role in shielding Jokowi from sectarian attacks.
However, recent discontentment expressed by PKB chairman Muhaimin Iskandar toward Jokowi may signal a challenge.
The PKB, a member of Jokowi’s ruling coalition, supported Agus Yudhoyono in the first round of the Jakarta election and only hesitantly lent its support to Ahok in the runoff less than two weeks before the poll.
It will come as no surprise if the PKB now demands bigger concessions from Jokowi in exchange for enduring support.
Indonesia’s second-biggest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah will also be in the equation. It has Muhadjir Effendy, the education and culture minister, as a representative in Jokowi’s Cabinet.
The outcome of the Jakarta election has indicated Jokowi’s strongest rival in 2019 will include Gerindra Party founder Prabowo Subianto, whom Jokowi beat narrowly in the 2014 presidential election. Anies will also be on the list amid speculation that Prabowo may pair with him to challenge Jokowi.
While speculation over Jokowi’s challengers remains elusive, what is guaranteed is sectarian sentiment will be the determining factor in the 2019 election, similar to the situation in 2014 when Jokowi would have lost if it were not for the PKB’s role in East Java.
While Jokowi has to fight the external risks, he may also have to battle elements within his own camp that have undermined his presidency, and even his chances of getting reelected.
First, Jokowi’s poor relationship with Vice President Jusuf Kalla, whose role has been reduced since early 2016, may determine the remaining course of the presidency. Although Kalla holds no position in the Golkar Party, the second-biggest after the PDI-P, his influence, network and political savvy should not be lightly dismissed.
Prabowo’s decision to give the ticket to Anies was only possible after intense lobbying by Kalla’s brother-in-law and trusted friend Aksa Mahmud, although Kalla had not openly declared his support for Anies.
For Jokowi, alienating Kalla has brought no benefits because, like it or not, Kalla has profound influence within the Muslim community. Among other positions, Kalla is the chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council (DMI).
Second, Jokowi will have to go all out to ensure Golkar remains under his wing given the indications of a looming feud in the party after its chairman and House Speaker Setya Novanto was barred from traveling overseas by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in relation to an ongoing graft investigation.
If Setya is ousted from his position, there is a greater chance Jokowi could lose Golkar, and eventually relinquish the coalition’s majority status in the House.
Setya’s rivals are already knocking on the door. His predecessor Aburizal Bakrie and several Golkar politicians were seen cozying up to Prabowo during Anies’ victory laps, indicating that Aburizal may have sought help from Prabowo in a bid for the former to take back control of Golkar.
Third, there is a possibility of a third Cabinet shake-up to instill discipline among recalcitrant coalition members that supported Anies, such as the National Mandate Party (PAN), and to recalibrate the capacity of the members to fight the threats that could undermine Jokowi’s 2019 prospects.
Fourth, Jokowi’s prospects will also hinge on his relations with the military, particularly the Army, with several politicians pointing to indications that certain elements within that institution have been impeding Jokowi’s agenda.
Ahok’s defeat has not only caught Jokowi’s camp off guard, but may also encourage Jokowi to take retribution against those he believes resorted to unfair tactics by fanning sectarian and ethnic sentiment in pursuit of their goals.