Has Jokowi handed a strategic victory to radicals ?

By appearing at Friday’s anti-Ahok rally, Jokowi has gained momentary political advantage at the expense of legitimising the political role of extremists, A.S. Hikam writes.

The so-called ‘super damai’—or ‘super peaceful’—demonstration at Jakarta’s National Monument (Monas) on 2 December perhaps heralds a new phase in Indonesia’s post-reformasi political constellation : namely, the emergence of Habib Rizieq Shihab as a representation of the phenomenal strength of political Islam. This is something that must be taken seriously by the Jokowi government, the Indonesian public, and foreign actors alike.

The presence of President Jokowi at the demonstration to listen to Habib Rizieq’s khotbah (the post-Friday prayer sermon, and one that clearly conveyed political messages to the president), Jokowi’s short speech on stage with Habib Rizieq and senior cabinet members, and, last but not least, the consistency of demands for Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) to be detained, and the success of the event without any disorder whatsoever—all these facts can be seen as indications that it was Habib Rizieq who was the man of the hour.

And it’s not just that. Post ‘2/12’, like it or not, Habib Rizieq is an undisputed leader of the forces of political Islam in Indonesia, and President Jokowi is one of the actors who has in turn reinforced that position. State officials can, of course, legitimately say that the president showed leadership by appearing at the demonstration. There are even those who say that Jokowi, to use a Javanese expression, has menang tanpa ngasorake (win, but without humiliating his adversaries), among other plaudits.

But politically speaking, Jokowi has only won tactically—it is Habib Rizieq who has prevailed strategically. Even if Jokowi can be said to have gained political advantage in the short term, it remains the case that the influence of Habib Rizieq and political Islam can only spread in the long term.

The most tangible short term political implication is that the legal case against Ahok will drag on. My prediction is that pressure from anti-Ahok groups will increase not just in order that the Governor is detained by authorities, but also until the legal process ends with his being found guilty. This camp will capitalise politically on the appearance of President Jokowi at Monas to steadily increase the pressure for ‘the law to be enforced’ and ‘justice be upheld’ in the coming judicial process.

The influence on the re-election campaign of Ahok and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat appears to be increasingly negative, hampering their recovery. If even the opinion polls conducted before ‘2/12’ are in agreement that Ahok-Djarot’s electability had suffered a drop as a result of Ahok being named a suspect, what more can be expected now ? The anti-Ahok forces will become more aggressive in their campaign to marginalise the incumbent. The Ahok-Djarot ticket will have to work extra hard just to avoid experiencing any further drastic declines.

The silence of the political parties supporting Ahok and Djarot following Jokowi’s appearance at Monas is also an inauspicious sign for them. It is as if PDI-P, Nasdem, and Hanura elites are confused, finally choosing to remain silent on the decision of President Jokowi—reportedly made on the spur of the moment—to appear at the demonstration. The silence of Ahok’s campaign team amid such political dynamics also shows that they too are experiencing serious shock.

This is contrasted with the persistence of the anti-Ahok groups in their pronounced campaign, as we saw in the appearance of new social media memes insisting that Ahok be detained. Efforts towards the recovery of the Ahok-Djarot campaign were clearly harmed by Jokowi’s decision to show up at Monas. At minimum, the opposition campaign has new ammunition, while Ahok and Djarot are not ready with countermeasures.

It is not only the Ahok-Djarot team that is affected by the political implications of Jokowi’s actions on Friday. The large Islamic mass organisations, which have so far tried to help Jokowi limit the escalation of demonstrations, might well be similarly shocked. As of the day after ‘2/12’, I have yet to find an official reaction from Nahdlatul Ulama or Muhammadiyah, or prominent Islamic figures who previously discouraged Muslims to not participate in the demonstration.

This is very interesting to observe : it could be that they too are in the midst of trying to understand and observe the dynamics described above. At the least, they must be evaluating the worth of their advice to the ummat to not attend the ‘2/12’ rally, given that the president himself turned up. Does Jokowi’s attendance not represent a sort of acknowledgement, and political endorsement, of the presence of Habib Rizieq and his supporters as a real force in national politics ? Wallahua’lam—God only knows.

A new post-reformasi political phenomenon in Indonesia rolls on : namely the emergence and flourishing of political Islam, not through electoral politics, but through mass politics. Does President Jokowi fully understand that now the leadership of Habib Rizieq and political Islam is growing steadily on Indonesia’s national political stage ? Let the conversation begin.


Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.