Jay Akbar – Two politicians have recently joined the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the presidential campaign ticket of incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and vice presidential running mate Ma’ruf Amin: Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama alias BTP and Muchdi Purwoprandjono, who is better known as Muchdi PR.
Both have their own histories in the national political scene. Purnama was the popular former Jakarta governor and an inspiration for members of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) – a party backing the Widodo-Amin ticket and part of Widodo national election campaign team (TKN) – to become involved in practical politics.
Muchdi PR meanwhile is a colleague of Widodo’s presidential rival Prabowo Subianto, both when they served in the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) as well as in Prabowo’s Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra). Muchdi was one of Gerindra’s founding members before switching to the Islamic based United Development Party (PPP) and then to Tommy Suharto’s Working Party.
But the reaction by the Widodo-Amin camp towards the two has clearly been quite different. Muchdi was greeted with open arms while Purnama was not. This can be seen from comments made by TKN officials themselves.
TKN political communications director Usman Kansong welcomed Muchdi’s decision to join the TKN even though he has a dark past as the person suspected to be involved in the assassination of renowned human rights defender Munir Said Thalib in September 2004.
“This is a new energy for us. We think that Jokowi’s electability will rise [because of this]”, said Kansong yesterday.
A similar view was expressed by TKN spokesperson Ace Hasan Syadzily. Syadzily even claimed that Muchdi’s support was a sign that the coalition backing Prabowo and vice presidential running mate Sandiaga Uno was not solid – even though Muchdi also supported Widodo in the 2014 presidential election.
“For us, whoever wants to support us, we must of course accept them with open arms”, Syadzily told Tirto on Monday February 11. Syadzily asserted that if Muchdi has abandoned Prabowo, then the public should also think about doing the same.
“Muchdi PR has the objectivity to see the achievements of Pak [Mr] Jokowi’s administration. And at the same time as a person close to Prabowo, Pak Muchdi can see very objectively the prestige of the Jokowi administration”, he said.
Statements like this confirm that Widodo’s campaign team will make use of Muchdi as must as possible in the two months remaining before the campaign period ends on April 13, four days before Election Day.
Purnama not needed?
Conversely, the comments made about Purnama have been rather flat – even though he actually become a PDI-P member only two days after being released from the Mako Brimob prison in Kelapa Dua, Depok, on January 24.
TKN Deputy Chairperson Abdul Kadir Karding said that there has not yet been any discussion about involving Purnama in the election campaign. “As of today we haven’t discussed and have never had any discussion at all about the involvement of Pak Ahok in the campaign”, Karding told Tirto.
Karding said that there was no particular reason for this, saying only that the TKN will give Purnama time to “enjoy his freedom” first after serving two years jail for blasphemy.
Remarks by TKN Program Director Aria Bima meanwhile were more explicit: “[We’re] not having anything to do with Ahok”, because the campaign is already under way and the schedule has all been finalised long ago.
“We from the campaign team have will not be placing BTP in the program as a jurkam [campaign spokesperson] or in the campaign team, period”, he asserted.
Why the difference?
So why is Purnama being treated so differently from Muchdi? One of the answers is perhaps because his involvement in the campaign could hurt Widodo.
Purnama’s involvement in Widodo’s election campaign team could potentially lose them votes because of the presence of Widodo’s vice presidential running mate Ma’ruf Amin, who is also a respected Islamic cleric and non-active chairperson of the peak Islamic body the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI).
This is what was suggested by Adi Prayitno, a researcher form The Political Literacy. “Many [conservative] Muslims who support Ma’ruf are anti-Ahok”, he said last year.
Although he appears to have been ignored, Purnama’s lack of involvement in the Widodo-Amin campaign team does in fact fit with his own wishes. In an Instagram message to House of Representatives (DPR) member Charles Honoris from the PDI-P, Purnama said that he wants to “travel first” and will return after the 2019 presidential election is over.
“I want to travel. I’ve already done 20 years, eh, 20 and-a-half months in jail. Yeah, it’s natural that I want to travel for two-and-a-half months, yeah. We’ll just meet up in late April or May”, said Purnama.
Former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama – a ethnic Chinese Christian – ran afoul of conservative Islamic groups after a doctored video circulated on social media that appeared to depict him insulting the Koran, when in fact he was warning the public not to trust politicians who quote from the holy book to convince them not to vote for non-Muslims. In December 2016 Islamic groups with the financial and political backing of sections of the political elite mobilised hundreds of thousands in series of so-call “Defend Islam” actions in a successful effort to force police to charge Purnama with blasphemy. Purnama – who had been the clear favourite to win – subsequently lost the election to the Prabowo backed Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno ticket and in May 2017 was convicted of blasphemy and jailed for two years. Ma’ruf Amin, who signed an Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) fatwa (edict) declaring that Purnama had committed blasphemy, also appeared as a key prosecution witness during Purnama’s trial.
On September 7, 2004 renowned human rights defender Munir Said Thalib died of arsenic poisoning onboard a Garuda Indonesia flight. Although off-duty pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto was convicted of the murder in 2005, the alleged mastermind behind the assassination, former National Intelligence Agency (BIN) deputy Muchdi Purwopranjono, was acquitted of all charges. Purwopranjono was also the head of Kopassus in 1998 and was dismissed from the military along with Prabowo over the abduction of political activists in 1997-98.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Saat Tim Kampanye Jokowi Tolak Ahok tapi Sambut Muchdi PR”.]