The dirty election tactics involving ethnic and religious slurs against Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, in the Jakarta gubernatorial election are proof that Indonesia’s political parties have all failed to provide healthy civic education to society, political scientists say.
Komaruddin Hidayat, rector at state-run Islamic University (UIN), said that using religion as a campaign platform for campaign would be detrimental to the image of the religion “because if you use religion and then fail to win the election, people will say your prayers are not powerful enough to make things happen.
“This will tarnish the image and reduce the power of the religion,” Komaruddin said.
“Religion should only be used in religious domains such as churches or mosques, but in the public domain, issues relating to religion must be articulated properly in the context of Indonesia as a pluralist nation.”
He added that those who fan ethnic, religious and racial sentiment during the campaign will learn a bitter lesson if their candidate loses the election.
Yunarto Wijaya, director of research at Charta Politica, a political consultancy and research agency, had a similar take on the subject.
He said on Saturday that the middle class and educated segments of society in Jakarta would feel offended and even personally hurt by the negative campaign being leveled against Ahok, who is ethnically Chinese and Christian.
The educated community does not look at the ethnic or religious backgrounds of the candidates when they are deciding who to vote for, Yunarto said. Instead, voters are judging candidates based on their capabilities, integrity and track record, he said.
Yet, under-educated voters outnumber educated ones, Yunarto said, adding that “these under-educated people can easily be influenced by provocateurs.”
“In my mind, it would be too big a blunder and too stupid if incumbent Governor Fauzi ‘Foke’ Bowo fanned ethnic and religious sentiments against Jokowi and Ahok, because that will surely backfire on him,” Yunarto said.
“I think he won’t do that because I know that he is close to Catholic and Protestant church leaders. Yet we must condemn the use of such ignorant sentiments in the election campaign.”
Yunarto said attacks of this nature are evidence that Indonesia’s democracy is still in its infancy, despite having 14 years to grow, in reference to the 1998 ouster of Suharto as president.
Political parties talk about the same issues even though voters want to hear something different, Yunarto said. So, when there are no good or different opinions, people use other criteria, such as ethnicity or religion, as a deciding factor, he said.
In the case of Jokowi and Ahok, Yunarto said there are three possible causes for the smear campaign. First, it is possible that Foke is not responsible for attacks but he’s not unhappy that they are taking place, even if he appears neutral in public. Second, some unseen political puppet masters are pulling the strings with a bigger goal in mind.
Third, it could be actually engineered by the Jokowi camp in order to come off as underdogs and to gain public sympathy, Yunarto said.
When it comes to voter participation, Yunarto said minority groups can still feel uncomfortable becoming candidates.
“This has happened in many parts of the archipelago,” but only in Jakarta has the issue been blown up so wildly because it happens in the capital city where information technology is easily accessible for everybody to spread their views, he said.
Komaruddin, meanwhile, said the important factor is parties providing good civics education so that voters are able to make informed decisions. A good civics foundation can stop smear tactics from working, he said, but it can also curb the largest issue in Indonesian politics, namely corruption.
Komaruddin said educated voters are more aware of graft and are more likely to demand politicians and political parties be transparent because they are chosen by the public to represent them.
Yunarto agrees with Komaruddin on the importance of having a strong and fair system that people can trust.
“To reform the political system, one must begin by reforming the political parties,” Yunarto said.
“But we paid so much attention to individual events and forget the need to overhaul the system.”
He added that this is the reason why political parties are now crippled by so many problems and so many of their members and leaders have been jailed for corruption and other crimes.