The “King of Dangdut,” Rhoma Irama, won’t be wearing a prison jumpsuit any time soon after the Jakarta Elections Supervisory Committee ruled on Sunday that his religious slurs were not a campaign violation, even though they did favor incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo, who is seeking another term in next month’s election runoff.
Rhoma was under investigation by the committee known as Panwaslu after giving a sermon at the Al-Isra mosque in West Jakarta on July 29, calling on Muslims to vote only for Muslim leaders.
The sermon was construed as an attack against Fauzi’s rival Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his Christian running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
But Panwaslu had a different opinion.
“First, the sermon was done outside of [campaign] season. Second, there is no indication of slander or defamation,” Panwaslu chairman Ramdansyah said on Sunday.
“There is also no evidence of money flowing [to Rhoma], and especially Rhoma did not call on his congregation to vote for a certain ticket by promoting its vision and mission.”
Analysts agree that Fauzi needs to take drastic measures to defeat Jokowi. Jokowi and Basuki won 43 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting on July 11, ahead of Fauzi and running mate Nachrowi Ramli, who received 34 percent. The second round of voting will take place on Sept. 20.
Panwaslu recently confirmed that there had been a series of attacks on Basuki’s faith and Chinese ethnicity. The committee has taken down 53 political banners said to be using religious, ethnic, racial or group affiliation slurs, known collectively as Sara.
Nuril Huda, a sociologist at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN), said using smear campaigning tended to backfire, particularly in Jakarta, home to many critical and rational voters.
“In regional elections, [voters] will base their pick on who they like and not [the candidates’] backgrounds,” Nuril told a discussion in Jakarta on Saturday. “In the current political trends, Sara issues will have little effect, unless Jakarta is still dominated by traditionalists.”
Nuril said candidates should instead focus on real issues like poverty, job creation and development.
Marwan Jaffar, the chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB) faction at the House of Representatives, said using Sara issues was obsolete.
“If they still use Sara issues, the person will be perceived as no longer relevant and unsophisticated,” he said.
But Fauzi’s campaign team has not distanced itself from the tactics, instead confirming that it had helped circulate an unconfirmed rumor that a Chinese Jokowi supporter had physically assaulted a Muslim Fauzi supporter.
“We did spread a picture as well as information that one of our cadre in an Islamic boarding school was assaulted,” Fauzi’s campaign secretary Budi Siswanto said.
Ramdansyah said the incident was unrelated, adding that neither of the youths was a member of any campaign team.
“This has nothing to do with the election. Let the police handle this,” he said.
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