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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lessons from Ahok’s defeat

Former Jakarta governor lost not because of his poor ability or performance, but the religious and identity disapproval

The defeat of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama aka Ahok has not only disappointed his supporters in Indonesia, but also the Chinese here in Malaysia.

Many said before the election that Ahok’s triumph in the gubernatorial race would signal the rise of minority politics and that a competent leader like him would surely win the support of majority of voters in a democracy.

I was then thinking it would be indeed nice if Ahok would be elected Jakarta’s governor. But what if he lost?

Unfortunately, Indonesian politics is much more intricate than we could ever understand. The highly recognised Ahok did not make it.

He lost not because of his poor ability or performance as governor, but the religious and identity disapproval among a majority of Jakarta’s voters. His rashness and simple-mindedness only accelerated his fall.

Where competency and performance are concerned, during his tenure as Jakarta’s governor (taking over from Joko Widodo), he did put on a superb show by introducing good governance and kickstarting the capital city’s economic development, and had once clinched the approval of almost 80% of Jakartans.

His rival Anies Baswedan, on the other hand, has had no experience as a local governor despite the fact he used to be the country’s education minister. His track record in Jakarta was nil. Despite that, he still emerged victorious winning 58% of the votes.

In short, what the majority of voters wanted was religion, and ethnicity, not sound governance.
This looks to be the destiny of minority politics, and there is still a very long way ahead to reverse this trend.

Ahok’s defeat should serve as an invaluable experience for the political struggles of minorities worldwide.

Firtly, Ahok lacked religious and ethnic sensitivity. During a campaign speech, he was accused of quoting and blaspheming the Quran. Sure enough there were elements of exaggeration and misinterpretation in play, but Ahok’s remarks put him on the edge, making it way too easy for his rivals to exploit this issue against him.

It wasn’t the first time Ahok came under public assault. Prior to that, he crudely slammed a public school ruling to enforce headdress on female students, drawing the ire of the country’s Muslim majority and winning himself the “anti-Islam” label from conservative Muslim organisations.

As a non-Muslim, he was overly self-conceited and seriously lacking in sensitivity towards the feelings of Muslims.

Secondly, Ahok had failed to be fully assimilated into the local culture, being born and raised in Belitung – an island between southern Sumatra and Kalimantan – and not Java, less so Jakarta.

His Chinese background is a whole world away from the Javanese culture. Known for their strong self dignity, the Javanese are not people one would expect to openly express their feelings and thoughts.

Ahok, on the other hand, speaks his mind blatantly, often not taking into consideration his listeners’ feelings, as evidenced by his censuring of civil servants and dissidents during the first days of his gubernatorial office, much to the disgust of many.

A certain local Chinese community leader had once advised him to be more courteous so as not to reawaken the distrust of the mainstream Javanese community towards the Chinese, which Ahok squarely rebuked as “brainless”.

Although vice-president Jusuf Kalla is on the side of Ahok, he had also advised Ahok to learn to accommodate the Javanese culture and not to hurt other people’s feelings.

Thirdly, Ahok was over ambitious and confident. He had long assumed that he would easily take Jakarta and would never conceal his intent of running for presidency one day.

He said after moving into the governor’s office, “Being a president is easier than being a governor in solving the country’s problems, including corruption.”

He pointed at the direction of the presidential palace: “Who knows I’ll move in there one day?”
It is good to be ambitious, but not without a knowledge of humility.

Ahok has his well-acknowledged ability and had won the support of president Joko Widodo and the ruling party. By right, he stood an excellent chance in his re-election bid.

Unfortunately, he had over-estimated himself and wrongly evaluated his voters, allowing the majority Muslims to rise up against him.

Meanwhile, the religious issues raised during the election campaign have widened inter-religious and ethnic conflicts, dampening Indonesia’s quest for diversity and moderation.
Tay Tian Yan writes for Sin Chew Daily.

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