Indonesia presidential hopeful promises change, end of patronage politics

Indonesia presidential hopeful promises change, end of patronage politics
Indonesia presidential hopeful promises change, end of patronage politics

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former Jakarta Governor and presidential candidate Anies Baswedan gestures as he speaks during his campaign at the Islamic Centre in Ciamis, West Java province, Indonesia, January 4, 2024. — Reuters pic

TASIKMALAYA (Indonesia), Jan 5 — After a campaign rally this week, Indonesian presidential contender Anies Baswedan dabbed sweat off his forehead as his convoy inched through a throng of supporters. Suddenly, he jumped out of his van to sign one last autograph for an excited teenage girl.

Less than six weeks from the Feb. 14 election to lead the world’s third-largest democracy, such spontaneity along with campaign pledges to address what he calls an erosion of democratic values have helped pull the former governor of Jakarta into second place in some opinion surveys.

But most polls have Anies neck-and-neck with the ruling party candidate, Ganjar Pranowo, and well behind leading candidate, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto.

“What we offer is change, returning civic life back to its track,” Anies, 54, told Reuters this week after a campaign rally in Indonesia’s most populous province, West Java.

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The promise of change comes amid outrage among many Indonesians, including senior government officials, over what they see as attempts by President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, to retain influence when he leaves office after a decade in power.

In October, the Constitutional Court, headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, tweaked election eligibility criteria, allowing the president’s son to run for vice president on Prabowo’s ticket. The decision sparked fears about a return to the nepotism and patronage politics that characterised the decades-long rule of former president Suharto.

As a member of the ruling party, PDI-P, Jokowi initially appeared to back Ganjar, but has now implicitly thrown his weight behind Prabowo, a controversial general who is a former son-in-law of Suharto.

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In previous elections, Anies said, “there was no chatter about neutrality, or concerns of foul play. Nothing like what we’re seeing today”.

Anies’s best hope of winning would lie in the ability to come second and force the election into a second round, if the leading contender, likely to be Prabowo, does not get a simple majority on Feb. 14. In a second round Anies would hope to attract Ganjar’s supporters.

Identity politics

As a former education minister, university rector and Fulbright Scholar with a PhD in public policy from Northern Illinois University, Anies is widely admired for his scholarly background and oratory.

Although he espouses moderate Islam, Anies has been criticised for his proximity to hardline Islamist groups, raising the spectre of identity politics in Indonesia.

Though home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia is officially secular and has sizeable Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and other communities.

Anies defended his track record of being inclusive, saying he helped ease permit requirements for building places of worship of any religion while running Jakarta, a city of over 10 million.

“If people are willing to accept open-mindedness and assess (me) based on facts, I’m happy. If they don’t, I cannot force them to,” he said.

Anies’s running mate is Muhaimin Iskandar, leader of Indonesia’s biggest Islamic party, which is also linked to the country’s largest moderate Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama.

Made Supriatma, a visiting fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said the support of both conservative and progressive Islamic political parties has helped Anies in surveys, but if minority groups remain unconvinced, it might cost him the presidency.

‘Tax the rich’

Anies, who is from a middle class background in Yogyakarta, a city in Java, spoke during the interview of his policy agenda, which includes plans to impose higher tax rates on the country’s ultra rich, but did not offer details.

Like the other candidates, he has pledged to generate growth and jobs, incentivise renewable energy investment and contain inflation in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy if elected.

He has attracted thousands of supporters at his campaign stops, drawn to the combination of his scholarly personality and pro-democracy agenda.

Atik Suwatini, 46, a resident of Tasikmalaya, said while listening to his speech in a packed sports hall she will vote for him because “he’s smart and he wants change.” — Reuters

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