Thursday, April 13, 2017

WHEN DEMOCRACY IS AT STAKE

(An Indonesian Diaspora's View on the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election 2017)

By Lily Hikam*)


In less than a week’s time, citizens in our nation’s capital, Jakarta, will once again go to the polls to cast a second vote for the runoff election for Governor. The election, which was dubbed by the London-based Guardian newspaper as an election that will “test Indonesia’s pluralism”, went to the second round since none of the candidates managed to garner more than 50% of the popular vote.
On Wednesday evening (12/4) the much awaited last and ultimate debate in the election was held. It was considered by many as a crucial platform for both teams to expound on their plans in creating a better Jakarta as well as in courting voters who are (for some reason) still undecided.

While the debate is an integral part in the voting process, what is even more important (and of higher interest) is how this election will turn out. Will Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (BTP), best kown by his nickname Ahok, remain as incumbent a preserve the status quo? Or will Jakartans elect a new governor, ushering a new administration and most importantly for some voters, would bring a Muslim back to the seat of power?

It's a matter of historical record that it will never be easy to separate religion from politics. Religion is, at its very nature, inseparable from the human experience and, up until this day and age, has permeated our sense of self whether consciously or not. On the other hand, politics concerns human affairs and the relationship between communities. Even in the United States where the phrase “Separation of Church and State” is etched in its Constitution, an ongoing debate still thrives as to the extent of separation between government and religion.

In Indonesia, we never make such distinct separation between religion and state. Instead belief in God is part our philosophical foundation (first principle of the Pancasila). Hence, it is understandable that in our country's democratic system, religion plays a very significant role. However, sociologically and culturally speaking, Indonesia is also a country characterized by its diversity, both ethnic as well as religious diversity. As part of the Indonesian "diaspora" in the US, I’m proud to hail from a country with a distinction of being the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, while at the same time not a Muslim State.

I am proud of our country’s tradition of peaceful coexistence between religions; I’m proud of our ability to find beauty and unity in the face of diversity, instead of being threatened by it, and mostly I’m proud of how Indonesians strive to be the face of moderate Islam, an Islam that will bring mercy to all creation.

Interethnic and interreligious harmony is what keeps Indonesia unified. Respecting each other is a key in maintaining the integrity of our nation; since religion is an integral part of our humanity, respecting and maintaining good relations with our neighbors of different religions are also crucial.
Our Indonesian civil society has functioned and flourished for generations with this simple yet powerful concept at its core. However nowadays, the stability of this harmonious relationship is fragile and, yes, threatened by divisive forces. The Jakarta gubernatorial election last February is a testament of that, with ethnicity and religion overshadowing other aspects of the election such as candidate competency.

While Gov. BTP managed to garner 43% of the vote, his closest rival Dr. Anies Baswedan managed to win 40% of the vote. This suggested that while there are voters who are mature enough to not be affected by issues such as ethnicity or religion, a large majority of voters still consider a candidate’s ethnicity or religion to be more important than their ability to handle the demands of public office. This also showed that primordialism and identity politics still permeates the Indonesian civil society. Current poll numbers for the two candidates showed that Gov. BTP to be lagging behind Dr. Baswedan. In less than one week time, we will all see whether this poll number translates to the real election result that is ultimately the “final exam” on Indonesia’s pluralism.

This Gubernatorial election and rising sentiment of Islamic fundamentalism reminds us that it is our job as the civil society to preserve peace, the existence of our country and to not let sentiments fueled by zealots to distort and pervert our beliefs. Jakarta has remained an exemplary model in Indonesian politics, so it's only understandable that what occurs in the event would have some repercussions on our beloved country.

Irvine, California, April 13, 2017

*) Graduate Student, Zaragoza Lab

UCI Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program

Department of Biological Chemistry

The University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine 

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