Analysis | Pitan Daslani
Former Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla this week weighed in on the negative campaigning against Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, saying that in a democratic society, it is not the religion but the capability and electability of the candidates that must be taken into consideration.
Kalla made the remark following a spate of smear campaigning against Jokowi and Ahok, conducted through Islamic propagation avenues, including sermons in mosques, posters and even defamatory messages sent through electronic devices.
Concerned by continuous attacks on the Jokowi-Ahok pair, which is running against incumbent governor Fauzi “Foke” Bowo, Kalla emphasized that the Jakarta governorship was never based on religious considerations. In fact, “history testifies that Jakarta was once led by a Christian governor,” he said.
Kalla reminded Jakartans of the period of 1964-65, when the governor of Jakarta was Hendrik Hermanus Joel Ngantung, popularly known as Henk Ngantung. He was a Christian, born in Manado, North Sulawesi, in 1921, and he died in Jakarta in 1991.
Henk was also a famous painter. He designed the “Selamat Datang” (“Welcome”) statue in front of Hotel Indonesia Kempinski at the heart of the capital city. Every Jakartan has seen the statue, but few know who produced the original design.
Henk’s numerous paintings were put on display a month before he passed away by noted businessman Ciputra, who wished to perpetuate the memory of the man widely recognized as a very humble and down-to-earth leader.
Former President Sukarno often called him in to discuss city planning and related issues. At one point, Sukarno sought Henk’s advice on cutting down trees along Jakarta’s main roads, but the governor insisted that the trees would make the city look nicer.
Henk always associated himself with the common people. He even sold his house in Central Jakarta and moved to a poor and crowded area in Cawang, East Jakarta, because he said he wanted to “live among the ordinary people.”
In taking this as an example, Jusuf Kalla aimed to convey the message that Jakarta needed a humble-hearted governor like Henk who preferred to associate himself with the common people.
Like Henk, Jokowi is also a public figure who prefers to be among the ordinary people.
Sources say that Kalla was the one who encouraged Jokowi to join the Jakarta gubernatorial election, even though he is from Golkar Party, while Jokowi is from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Jokowi was initially surprised by the suggestion and said he did not have enough self-confidence to run for the Jakarta governorship, knowing that it would be a hard race.
But Kalla convinced him and said that he himself would talk to PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri in order to get approval, and would back him in the race.
Kalla later called Megawati and told her he believed Jokowi would succeed because voters would opt for a humble-hearted and down-to-earth leader, as he viewed the Solo mayor.
Megawati was not very enthusiastic about this initially and asked Kalla whether he believed that this strategy would work well.
Kalla assured her that Jokowi would represent a symbol of change the people needed because, in Kalla’s words, “Jokowi usually upholds togetherness, unlike Fauzi Bowo who prefers to do things alone.”
The fact that the Golkar Party also sent its candidate, Alex Noerdin, into the race, Kalla — a former chairman of Golkar — concealed his support for Jokowi until after learning of Alex’s defeat in the first round of the election.
Kalla’s argument was that he was looking for a down-to-earth public figure whom he would support to run for Jakarta governorship and he found that in Jokowi.
So it is not a coincidence that Kalla used Henk as an example similar to Jokowi, who always wanted to be among the common people. Henk just happened to be a Christian, like Jokowi’s running mate, Ahok.
But Kalla thought he should remind the public because anti-Christian sentiments were high as the two camps prepared for the final political showdown on Sept. 20.
Fauzi Bowo has come under fire for telling victims of a recent fire accident to “go build your home in Solo if you vote for Jokowi.”
Prior to this, dangdut music star Rhoma Irama encouraged Muslims to “not vote for infidels,” a phrase he took from the Koran, but was widely perceived to be directed at Jokowi’s running mate, Ahok.
Jokowi and Ahok have responded to the accusations in a relaxed manner, by singing Rhoma’s dangdut songs for an audience of reporters earlier this week. They sang Rhoma’s 1980s hits, “135 Juta” and “Darah Muda.” The first song is about the Indonesian population consisting of many enthic groups but remaining united. The second means “young blood.”
A week before that, news reports said Fauzi had given a Rp 28 million ($3,000) donation to a mosque where a radical preacher told followers that if the incumbent did not win the race, “mosques would be empty,” implying that the faith of the public would falter under a non-Muslim leader.
Jokowi himself has recently returned from a minor hajj pilgrimage to Mecca — following accusations in certain segments of society that he wasn’t a true Muslim.
Political analysts have said that if such sentiments run high in the capital city, the situation in the rest of the country could even be worse.
The use of ethnic and religious sentiments in the Jakarta election suggests that Indonesia’s democracy is still in its infancy. But political parties that are legally obliged to provide a healthy civic education are themselves taking advantage of such campaign tactics.