Presidential hopeful Baswedan embraces political Islam: Benefit or blunder?

CNN Indonesia – December 15, 2023
Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar Ijtima Ulama event in Bogor – November 18, 2023 (Antara)

Jakarta – Presidential election ticket number 1, Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar (AMIN) have hooked in Islamic groups and religious leaders in the 2024 presidential election contest.

AMIN National Campaign Team (Timnas) Co-Captain Yusuf Martak has said that former Jakarta governor Baswedan and running mate National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairperson Iskandar have signed an integrity pact with the Ijtima Ulama (an assembly if Islamic clerics) forum.

In addition to this, not long ago AMIN also received support from Ustaz (Islamic cleric) Abdul Somad – who openly denigrates non-Muslims as heretics and has been banned from at least six countries – following a meeting with Baswedan in Riau.

AMIN's move to embrace Islamic political groups, particularly by signing the integrity pack, has been highlighted by non-government organisations (NGOs). The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) for example believes that this contradicts AMIN's vision and mission and its narrative on freedom of expression and the resolution of past gross human rights violations.

The reason being that under the pact AMIN is required to pursue a number of things, one of which is a moral (akhlak) revolution to "protect society from being undermined by life styles and damaging ideas that conflict with decency and other norms that apply in Indonesian society and conflict with [the state ideology of] Pancasila".

In addition to this, AMIN is also required to consistently implement Provisional People's Consultative Assembly Decree (TAP MPRS) Number XXV/1966 on the prohibition against spreading Marxist, Leninist and communist ideas. Yet this decree is seen as the cause of discrimination and restrictions against the victims of the 1965-66 mass killings.

Careful calculation

Andalas University political observer Asrinaldi is convinced that AMIN has carefully calculated the benefits and consequences of signing the integrity pact.

Asrinaldi says that there are many points in the pact that conflict with moderate and liberal Islamic groups who have a high level of respect for civil liberties. AMIN could well lose mass support from this segment.

On the other hand, said Asrinaldi, support from conservative Islamic groups will strengthen.

"The issue of LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer], the issue of deviance, sexual orientation, is of concern to the Islamic community and perhaps it will be of more value for the AMIN ticket [to get support from conservative groups and political Islam]", Asrinaldi told CNN Indonesia on Thursday December 15.

"AMIN is very confident that this will be able to boost his electability, this is of course its commitment in order to be able get support from Islamic groups", he continued.

Moreover, said Asrinaldi, many of these Islamic political groups are disappointed with Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) Chairperson Prabowo Subianto following the 2019 presidential elections, who is running as presidential ticket number 2 along with vice presidential candidate President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

For the record, the integrity pact signed by AMIN no longer includes the sentence "protecting society from being undermined by life styles and damaging ideas that conflict with decency and other norms that apply in Indonesian society such as LGBTQ+ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Plus], prostitution, gambling, liquor, drugs and other social diseases".

The point on a moral revolution was changed to read: "Carrying out a moral revolution in all sectors of life to build a nation that is religious, responsible and honest (berakhlakul karimah) for the sake of making Indonesia pious and blessed by protecting the society from being undermined by lifestyles and damaging ideas that conflict with decency and other norms that apply in Indonesian society or conflict with Pancasila".

Disappointed with Prabowo

Many Islamic political groups supported Prabowo in the 2019 elections when he faced off against Widodo. These groups even held demonstrations in front of the Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) in Jakarta on May 21-22 because they could not accept that had Prabowo lost the election. During these often violent actions, nine people were killed.

Following this however, Prabowo joined Widodo's cabinet by accepting the position of Defense Minister. Asrinaldi says it was this that disappointed the Islamic groups that had supported him and would potentially not support Prabowo if he ran for the presidency again.

"The ulama [Islamic clerics] are more supportive of AMIN, this position is because Prabowo is identified with Jokowi in the 2024 elections. This will be a benefit for AMIN", he said.

Asrinaldi concedes that in several regions the conservative Islamic groups and the Islamic clerics are split between Baswedan and Prabowo. Although Asrinaldi is convinced that the number is not great.

"This is usual yeah, because of course there are ulama that were historically in the past close to Prabowo and are communicating [with him] to this day", he said.

"I think this polarisation will also occur in East Java but won't be a problem, but generally of course they supports Anies more, yes, in the context of ulama support", he added.

Exposit Strategic political analyst Arif Susanto meanwhile is convinced that the move taken by AMIN in hooking in conservative Islamic groups is a realistic one if the AMIN ticket wants reach the second round of the presidential election.

Susanto explained that AMIN's move may indeed undermine votes from moderate and liberal Islamic groups. Nevertheless, there are also many moderate Islamic groups that would still be in agreement with the narrative of several points in the Ijtima Ulama integrity pact, especially in relation to LGBTQ.

However, said Susanto, it should be recognised that these groups are not very significant in garnering votes, because they are still smaller in number than the conservative groups.

In addition to this, the conservative Islamic groups also tend to be more loyal in determining voters' choices in presidential elections, compared with moderate and liberal Islamic groups. So, he said, grabbing the vote of conservative Islamic groups is more profitable.

"So these contradictions can be explained if indeed the target is what I think is realistic. The initial target is to get into the second round", said Susanto.

Susanto stated that AMIN must indeed take a position of attracting the voter base that is its priority. According to Susanto, it would be difficult if AMIN wants to hook in two different groups at once.

He said that the groups around PKB and its constituent base the moderate Islamic mass organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) are not united in supporting AMIN because their electoral support is split due to Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs Mahfud MD, the vice presidential candidate running under ticket number 3 who has strong ties with NU.

Moreover, AMIN is also backed by the conservative Islamic based Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS). Therefore according to Susanto, it makes more sense if AMIN plays a narrative that is in line with the PKS and conservative Islamic groups if it wants to garner votes.

"The strength of this group is that they're loyal. In an election what is clear is that the contestation will be won by the larger base of support. This is beneficial. Because they have loyalty", Susanto explained. (yla/pmg)

Editor's note: This article was corrected on December 15 at 0.30 am to add an explanation on the points about the moral revolution in the integrity pact and the changes made to the original pact submitted by the Ijtima Ulama forum.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Kelompok Islam Politik di Barisan AMIN, Perkuat atau Blunder?".]