Partyforumseasia: According to the World Population Report, Indonesia’s capital has more than ten million inhabitants. The local media count more than seven million eligible voters for the second round of the gubernatorial election which has started this morning, Wednesday, 19th April. In the early afternoon, private polls report a small lead for the former education minister Anies Baswedan over incumbant Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or “Ahok”. Ahok was considered to win the election easily after taking over from president Jokowi after the latter moved to the presidential palace in 2014. Ahok was known as a decisive administrator, cleaning up the mega-city in many ways, but somewhat arrogant and brash which does not go well with the traditional Javanese politeness. But the decisive setback was the lawsuit for blasphemy under Articles 156 and 156a of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) , started by his enemies. In September 2016, Ahok had discounted claims that the Quran forbids the election of Christians and Jews to public office, and Ahok is in a double minority role as ethnic Chinese and Christian. Since the case is still pending, Ahok faced a severe handicap in his campaign, though his efficiency as governor has kept him a strong following. But the controversy and the huge rallies organized by powerful conservative Muslim organizations have divided the Jakarta electorate, so that the voter turnout today is expected to exceed the 77% of the first round in February. Security measures are tight, under the threat of Muslim zealots intimidating Muslim Ahok supporters, more than 60,000 policemen are deployed around the polling centers.
Beside the outburst of religious sentiments on an unprecedented level, the religious parties being not too successful otherwise, this election is also highlighting other peculiarities in the dynamic political development of Indonesia’s democracy . Like in most countries in Southeast Asia, money politics and vote buying are rather common. The Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) has warned against smear campaigns and vote-buying attempts, while numerous such violations are already under investigation. For the poorer voters it can start with staple food donations which are disguised as religious alms giving, but money is changing hands as well, and the manipulation attempts can reach practically all the 13, 034 polling stations.
The Indonesian Corruption Watch, many NGO’s, and of course the political parties behind the candidates, try to monitor the election process and have set up hotlines for reports by the public. Final and official results are not expected before end of the month.
Partyforumseasia: The international headlines focus predominantly on radical Islam, sometimes on radical Hinduism in India, from time to time on Christian fundamentalism in the US. Buddhism, all in all, has managed to keep an image of peacefulness, except in Myanmar, where Buddhist monks took part in violent attacks on the Muslim Rohingya minority. Since mid 2013 they are organized in the “Association for the Protection of Race and Religion”, also known under the acronym Ma Ba Tha or “မဘသ” in Burmese. The organization is being described as nationalistic, fiercely anti-Islam, and well connected to the military. Though article Article 364 of the Constitution prohibits the “abuse of religion for political purposes”, Ma Ba Tha leaders are openly supporting the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). During its second anniversary conference in June, Bhaddamta Vimala, a senior monk and secretary of Ma Ba Tha, criticized the opposition as too inexperienced to rule the country and urged the monks to drum up support for the USDP in the upcoming elections on 8 November. Monks cannot vote but their influence among the population is considerable.
After independence the U Nu government tried to introduce Buddhism as the state religion, but the law was never passed after resistance in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Nevertheless, Ma Ba Tha has celebrated “state religion day” on 30 August to commemorate the 1961 move toward Buddhism as official religion. The day’s religious importance derives from Buddha teaching the Metta Sutta, or discourse on loving kindness which seems to be rather irreconcilable with the militant and violent sides of Ma Ba Tha.
The organization was also more than supportive in legislation concerning religious conversions and interfaith marriages as well as compulsory monogamy and population-control – it actually drafted them. The last of the four laws was signed by president Thein Sein on 31 August, the whole package being criticized by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi as discriminatory for the minorities. But this may backfire in the elections, because Ma Ba Tha has grown into a very powerful nationalistic force which will certainly use its considerable influence to support the USDP and reduce the chances of the NLD. Nota bene: Christian groups in the West should not cry foul too easily. The Christian Democratic parties in Europe have enjoyed the churches’ support for many years, and American Evangelicals still wield considerable influence until today.