The alphabet of election campaign hyperbole runs from Absurd through Fatuous and Stupid to Zero (as in logic). Most statements are ephemeral for the nonsense spruikers know little is taken seriously once the losers are trampled by the triumphant.
But in Indonesia pledges by the former champion of the 1998 ‘People’s Power Revolution’ are causing deep disquiet.
Dr Amien Rais has announced that if the 17 April presidential poll results in a win for incumbent Joko Widodo – as expected – and there’s any hint of funny business, he’ll unleash mass protests on behalf of challenger Prabowo Subianto rather than follow the legal appeal process.
‘If fraud happens we will not go to the Constitutional Court,’ he said. ‘There is no point. We are people power. People power is legitimate.’
The presidential contest is a re-run of the 2014 event between the same contenders. When Widodo won by six percentage points Subianto refused to admit defeat for almost three months, filing challenges through the Constitutional Court. All failed.
Fraud has allegedly already been detected. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) this month claimed it caught one candidate with thousands of cash-stuffed envelopes ready to bribe voters.
Had anyone else made the ‘people power’ threat it could be dismissed as a tactic to frighten electors into supporting Subianto, a former general who’s been thumping lecterns to hammer his Trump-style tough guy nativist image.
But Rais is no campaign minion. He’s a seasoned political engineer who was the public face and voice of the 1998 mass movement which crushed dictator Soeharto’s 32-year dictatorship.
Although then in his mid 50s, the US-educated leader of the nation’s second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah excited the rebellious tertiary students. Their huge demonstrations – along with the international monetary crisis – brought the nation’s second president undone.
Rais started the National Mandate Party (PAN) and pitched for the top job. He failed and has spent this century in politics and academia trying to retrieve his glory days. Now 75 his statement has chilled observers fearing he’s scene-setting for a re-run of the arson, killings and rapes following Soeharto’s downfall.
The rioters mainly targeted ethnic Chinese businesses. More than 1,000 died in Jakarta. Most were looters caught in torched high-rises.
The army says it has almost half a million troops on stand-by to thwart trouble. The police are mustering a similar number. Both are now more professional and better led than in 1998 when rioters outnumbered and intimidated security forces.
General Joni Supriyanto, chief of the army’s general staff reportedly said ‘the people of Indonesia are much smarter nowadays, more modern, but they are also more patriotic …mature enough in democracy.’
He’s probably right; despite the slanders on social media there’s been little obvious hostility in the cities I’ve visited across Java and Bali during the campaign. Most rallies have been policy-free fun shows with audiences allegedly paid to flag-wave. However hearing Subianto scream antiasing at an event was disturbing.
The phrase was pure Pauline Hanson; it suggests foreigners are responsible for whatever evils he alleges the country is facing – in this case the Republic’s natural resources being plundered by outsiders.
White faces outside Bali are still rare enough to arouse attention, but so far there’s no indication Subianto’s slurs have taken root. It might be different for those who look Chinese.
Absent from the speeches has been any meaningful statements about equality, the environment, human rights, women’s emancipation, respect for others, and inclusiveness.
Not surprising as Subianto has been accused of human rights abuses during his term in the army last century. The Western media cliché is that Indonesian Muslims are tolerant. Not the Indonesian Ulema (Islamic scholars) Council (MUI), formerly led by Widodo’s running mate Ma’ruf Amin.
Under his watch it issued fatwa (an Islamic legal instruction) against pluralism, homosexuality, and those who practise Shi’ite Islam, the majority religion in Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan. Indonesians are mainly Sunni.
There’s an estimated one million Shi’ite followers in the archipelago; they’re labelled heretics and brutally persecuted, their homes fire-bombed and families forced into‘re-education’ camps.
The prime target for the main parties in the election has been Muslims, and principally men. Both candidates and their backers have been stirring faith and prayer into the secular business of democracy. There are some women candidates, but psephologists predict few will win seats.
Christians, Hindus, Confucians and Buddhists form only ten per cent of the population of 270 million; away from the eastern islands where these religions dominate, they’ve been largely ignored.
There’s now a campaign blackout ahead of the Wednesday ballot. In the 2014 election 70 per cent of the 193 million eligible voters participated. For the best analysis of the whole shebang see Ben Bland’s comprehensive and readable essay here: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/
Australian journalist Duncan Graham lives in Indonesia.