Lenny Tristia Tambun & Bayu Marhaenjati
Just before dusk on Friday, devotees at the Al-Muttaqin Mosque sat in neat rows as the preacher took the podium to deliver his sermon.
Among the congregation was a special guest of honor, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo. As the preacher, Fahmi Albuqorih, gave his speech, Fauzi, who will stand for reelection in a runoff vote on Sept. 20, must have been pleased.
“Muslims must pick a leader of the same faith,” Fahmi proclaimed. It was the thrust of a fiery address that was as political as it was religious.
“I was born and raised in Jakarta so it is hard for me to see Muslims choosing a leader who is not one of us,” Fahmi continued.
“Nobody asked me to say this. I am merely expressing my concern. You can vote for anyone you like. But the struggle of the Muslim leaders will be marred if we don’t vote for one of our own.”
Fauzi’s opponent in the runoff, charismatic Solo Mayor Joko Widodo, has a Christian running mate, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Given the results of the first-round vote, Fauzi is facing an uphill battle.
Joko (known also as Jokowi) garnered 43 percent of the vote in the July 11 election. Fauzi (known also as Foke) and his running mate, retired general Nachrowi Ramli, only got 34 percent.
Analysts agree that if Fauzi is to have any chance of winning, he will need to offer something dramatic. Incumbents generally have a tough time improving their standing in runoff ballots because voters whose candidates were eliminated in the first round tend not to side with the status quo contender in round two.
As the final election date nears, some have accused Fauzi’s campaign of attacking Basuki’s Chinese ethnicity and Christian religion. The claims carry extra weight because such campaigning is illegal.
Under the 2004 Law on Regional Governance, electoral campaigners are prohibited from insulting other candidates or parties, especially by attacking their religion, ethnicity, race and group affiliation. Those issues are collectively known as SARA.
The law stipulates jail sentences of between three and 18 months and fines of Rp 600,000 to Rp 6 million ($64 and $640) for violating the rule.
“The introduction into the campaigns of public slander, defamation and the vilification of others through of SARA issues is prohibited,” said Ramdansyah, the head of the Jakarta Elections Supervisory Body (Panwaslu). “ This is regulated in the laws.
Some recent developments, such as the flyer targeting Basuki’s faith and ethnicity that circulated in one West Jakarta area, however, suggest Friday’s sermon was only the beginning.
Voting for a Christian like Basuki (known also as Ahok) would spell disaster for the capital, said Rifai Anwar, a member of the Jakarta Mosque Council (DMI Jakarta), who was also present at Al-Muttaqin on Friday. Jakarta should only be led by Muslims, he told the congregation.
He was quick to point out that his words were not part of any smear campaign.
“We are just reminding Muslims to pick a leader of the same faith,” Rifai said. “That is the obligation of the [Muslim] devotee.”
University of Indonesia political analyst Andrinof Chaniago said that using religious and ethnic slurs in political campaigns was a double-edged sword.
“Laymen might be persuaded by this kind of campaigning, but it can also be counterproductive,” he said. “People who perceive the motivation behind it might walk away from the pair responsible. In fact, those people might outnumber the others.”
He added: “We can see that [such a campaign] is happening, through sermons, text messages and BlackBerry messages. It has been systematic and organized.”
Jerry Sumampouw, from the Indonesian Voters Committee (TEPI) said what happened Al-Muttaqin was hidden campaigning. Candidates are not allowed to campaign outside the official period, which runs from Sept. 14 to 16.
“Just because there are no [campaign] attributes does not mean it is not campaigning,” Jerry said.
The police should investigate any racial or religious slurs that might have political connections, he added. “SARA is against the law and can disrupt the nation’s unity,” he said. “This is a criminal offense.”
Jerry called on Panwaslu and the police to investigate the possible smear campaigning, but he added that it would be hard for authorities to link any of it back to one of the candidates.
“The perpetrators are usually sympathizers detached from the central campaign team, so providing sanctions will be hard,” he said.
Either way, he said, SARA attacks were bound to backfire in Jakarta. There were too many intellectual and middle-class voters for such tactics to work.
“For Jakartans, using SARA issues is a cheap shot,” he said. “I don’t thing it will have much effect. Jakartans are smart and critical. Still, we must all be alert.”
Panwaslu’s Ramdansyah said his office was working to stop the use of religious sermons for campaigning.
At an event hosted by Panwaslu on Saturday, religious leaders and representatives of both campaigns jointly declared the “Don’t Politicize Religion” and “Stop SARA Campaigning” programs. Both Basuki and Nachrowi signed pacts that pledged campaigns free of SARA attacks.
Panwaslu had received at least three other complaints of hidden campaigning and religious slurs, Ramdansyah said.
“We are now investigating a campaign involving SARA issues done in a place of worship in Menteng Atas [in South Jakarta],” he said.
One of the reports centered on another sermon, also on Friday, in a mosque in Utan Kayu, East Jakarta, he said. Another told of pamphlets distributed in West Jakarta last Thursday that referred to Basuki as a “Zionist.”
Campaign or religious expression?
Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) deputy chairman Ma’ruf Amin said it was reasonable for preachers to tell their congregations who to vote for.
“It is up to the disciples whether they want to listen,” he said. “I think it is not SARA campaigning for a preacher to call on his congregation to choose a leader of the same faith. What’s wrong with that? We consider religion when choosing a wife, why shouldn’t it apply to leaders also?”
Zaky Mubarak, head of sermons at Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Muslim organization, had a different opinion.
“We have told all preachers from NU to avoid [politics] during their sermons and preaching,” he said. “They must call on their congregation to put forward their own conscience in choosing a leader. There must be no SARA issues to ensure that the election goes peacefully.”
Miftah Rais, head of the As-Syukur Mosque in Central Jakarta, said that during a recent visit by Fauzi to the mosque, he told his congregation they should only vote for Muslims.
“We are just making a suggestion,” he said. “It is up to them who they want to vote for. What is certain is that our duty [as preachers] is to call on people to vote for leaders of the same faith.”
Miftah said he supported Fauzi, who was “a true and faithful Jakarta leader who will bring blessings to the capital.”
“We must not sell our faith so easily. Let’s pray that [Fauzi] gets reelected as Jakarta governor,” he said.
Jakarta Interreligious Communications Forum (FKUB) chief Syafii Mufid said he was worried about smear campaigning. He called it a threat to national stability.
“To be honest, we are saddened and worried at how this runoff election is developing,” he said. “Every day there are new text messages whose contents disturb us.
“This is already happening. So whoever comes out the victor, they must ask for the other’s apology. Jakarta is a reflection of the [national motto] ‘Unity in Diversity.’ ”
Joko-Basuki campaign spokesman Maringan Pangaribuan said his team did not take religious slurs made against them seriously.
“We just want people not to be bothered by it or easily believe what they say,” he said.
Budi Siswanto, Fauzi’s campaign secretary, said his team had done nothing illegal.
“We never did any campaigning ahead of schedule,” he said. “If preachers are advocating their beliefs in mosques, don’t immediately judge that they are campaigning. We think there is no campaigning in them … because there is no actual instruction to vote for this pair or that pair.”
But that’s not the way things went down at Al-Muttaqin on Friday.
“Let us all support Fauzi Bowo in the next round [of election],” Nursani, chairman of the Al-Mutaqqin council, shouted as he addressed the congregation.
“We will support Fauzi Bowo to win. If Allah is willing Fauzi Bowo will win. Allah is the greatest.”
Soon the mosque is filled with chanting and prayers. “Allah is the greatest,” screamed the congregation.
Fauzi smiled from ear to ear hearing the enthusiasm, humbly saying that he is only there to “maintain close relationship with the people of Jakarta.”