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Jakarta. Muslim identity politics — when Muslim groups form exclusive

political alliances and move away from traditional broad-based party politics
— may come back to haunt the next presidential election in Indonesia in
2019, after politicians and hardline Muslim leaders used it as a stick to beat
Basuki “Ahok” TjahajaPurnama in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in April.

Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent and close ally of President Joko

“Jokowi” Widodo, was sentenced to two years in May for committing
blasphemy against Islam. Ahok was accused of insulting a verse in the Koran
when he pointed out that his political rivals had used it to discredit him.

The blasphemy case was seen as a test for diversity and democracy in
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Indonesia has a
secular constitution but since the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime
in 1998 had allowed some regions to adopt Islamic law.

Muslim identity politics, as it has been used by the country’s politicians and
hardline Muslim groups, tends to stoke ethnic and religious sentiment.
Authorities now see it as a threat to Indonesia’s state ideology, the five-tenet
Pancasila, the first of which states “belief in one God,” but that overall
guarantees all citizens the right to worship any of the six religions officially
recognized by the state.

The six officially recognized religions in Indonesia are: Islam, Protestantism,

Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

Over the years, politicians have been manipulating ethno-religious sentiment

to gain votes, turning a blind eye to criticism that the move is unprofessional
and unethical.
“Ethno-religious sentiment affects the decision of Indonesian voters, it’s very
relevant here,” said ArizkaWarganegara, a political analyst from Lampung
University and a doctoral researcher at University of Leeds in the United
Kingdom, in a report published by the Jakarta Globe in February.

“Ethno-religious sentiment is also a big factor with voters in India, Malaysia

and also in America – look what happened with [Donald] Trump. Voters
need to be educated to be more rational and mature,” he added.

According to Keith Loveard, a Jakarta-based risk analyst who writes for the
Concord Review, many Indonesian Muslims may very well throw their
support behind a fellow Muslim as a leader, but historically they have
nevertheless been quite averse to the idea of an Islamic state.

“Every step since independence, they say they don’t want an Islamic state.
And I’m not convinced that proportion of voters has changed to any great
degree,” Loveard said in Jakarta on Sunday (13/08).

SitiZuhro, a professor of politics at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, or

LIPI, said President Jokowi may have to watch out for political opponents
who may play the “religious versus nationalist values” card in the 2019

“As long as politicians only care about winning, they will always pit
nationalist and religious groups against each other [including in 2019],” Siti
told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday.

“The question we need to ask should be, ‘Do the Indonesian people need a
new leader or not?’ and not, ‘How many Muslim voters will it take to win
you the election?'” she said.

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