A dangerous gamble

Indonesian elections have a history of generating strange bedfellows. Yet, even by Indonesia’s flexible standards, President Joko Widodo’s recent announcement of his running mate for the 2019 general elections is disappointing, if not altogether surprising. His pick, Ma’ruf Amin, is an Islamic cleric with the kind of anti-liberal record that is antithetical to what the Indonesian President was once thought to stand for. When Jokowi (as Mr. Widodo is usually referred to) came to international attention after winning a bitterly contested presidential contest in 2014, he was a genuine political outsider who had benefited from a wave of anti-corruption sentiment. At that point his political career had spanned less than a decade, first as Mayor of a medium-sized city, Solo, and later as Governor of the national capital, Jakarta. Mr. Widodo stood out for his humility in a country where political elites are not known for it, as well as for his honesty and liberalism. This last quality was largely an imputed one, less to do with his track record and more with his choice for running mate in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial poll: Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Ahok, as Mr. Purnama is popularly nicknamed, is an ethnic Chinese Christian from the northern island of Sumatra, who operated in a political context dominated by Muslims from the populous island of Java. Mr. Widodo’s choice of Ahok as Jakarta’s Vice-Governor had signalled a decision to eschew identity politics in favour of policies focussed on clean government and economic development. In his term in office, Mr. Widodo has emerged as a tinkerer who makes subtle reforms where possible, rather than a revolutionary set on system-overhaul. In a country as diverse and fractured as Indonesia, this strategy has its advantages. It’s no easy task to juggle the expectations of a moderate base, increasingly powerful conservative Islamists, power-hungry coalition partners and the military. Mr. Widodo, with his strong approval ratings in opinion polls, has performed this balancing act with considerable skill. Yet, there is a fine line between tactical compromise and rank opportunism. And the genie of identity politics once out of the bottle may prove impossible to put back in. Picking Mr. Amin as his running mate could help him win the election, but it is a dangerous gamble for the future of a country that has so far been a moderate beacon in an expanding sea of religious extremism.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/a-dangerous-gamble/article24755984.ece

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