Power at what cost? Those left out of Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election

Incumbent presidential candidate Joko Widodo (left) and his running mate, K.H. Ma'ruf Amin, wave after registering for Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election at the General Election Commission (KPU) office in Jakarta. Bagus Indahono/EPA

Power at what cost? Those left out of Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has chosen Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) chief and the supreme leader of the country’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate for next year’s election.


Read more: Political compromise behind Indonesia's vice presidential nominees: experts respond


Many analysts argued that this surprising decision came as a twist in Indonesia’s latest political drama. This article will not analyse Jokowi’s strategic decision to select Ma'ruf. Rather, this essay aims to name the elephant in the room – the negative impacts of Ma'ruf’s nomination on minority groups.

What is missing

Most analysts have focused on Jokowi’s political strategy in selecting Ma'ruf as candidate for vice president. They base their analyses on how political actors make pragmatic calculations to win and keep foes at bay.

With this approach, it should come as no surprise that Ma'ruf’s appointment is either being praised by Jokowi’s supporters as being politically savvy, or viewed by his opponents as strategically cunning, if not outright deceptive.

Many consider Jokowi a great strategist. His decision to select Ma'ruf will undermine his Islamist opponents and may win the election in April.

Missing from these plaudits is a reading of how the president’s decision will affect members of religious, sexual and gender minorities.

Knowing Ma'ruf more

Ma'ruf is not only an ordinary traditional ulama (Muslim leader). Through a simple Google search, we can find his track record on the issuance of edicts (fatwa) on several sensitive issues.

These edicts discriminate against the rights of minority groups, including women, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), Shia and Ahmadiyah followers.

Ma'ruf’s leadership in MUI has also shown his strong opposition to “liberalism”, “pluralism” and “secularism”.

While Nahdlatul Ulama is associated with progressive views on Islam, it would be misleading to assume that, being the organisation’s supreme leader, Ma'ruf will hold a progressive stance on minority-related issues .

Ma'ruf’s position in Nahdlatul Ulama reflects the diverse perspectives that are present within the body of Nahdlatul Ulama, not its singularity.

Fragmented public

Jokowi’s decision to choose Ma’ruf as his running mate shows an inherent characteristic of Indonesian politics: it is fragmented between those for and against the status quo.

As a result, aspects like policy orientation and human rights principles are set aside to give way to these dividing narratives that pull opposing camps to the extremes.

Political candidates’ success will depend on their capacities to make popular appeals to current public sentiments, and not on their capabilities to protect the human rights of all Indonesian citizens.

By the end of the day, the public might not really care about what is morally right. Instead, people are driven to prove that the other side is wrong. At this point, supporters of both Jokowi and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, have lost their critical ability to fairly evaluate their own candidates.

Affirming discrimination

Jokowi won the 2014 presidential election as a champion of pluralism. Five years later, President Jokowi is showing himself to be nothing more than a politician whose only concern is to get re-elected in the next election even if it means turning his back on the principles he allied with five years before.

Any political move in the public space always brings consequences. Jokowi’s choice of running mate may be a savvy political gambit to appease the undeniable force of the Muslim conservatives in the current political climate.

But we should not forget that it also provides the highest affirmation of Ma'ruf’s antagonistic stance towards marginalised people.

Ma'ruf’s selection means there is a place for misogyny, homophobia and religious discrimination at the highest political level in Indonesia.

It is true that the realm of policy-making always comes with trade-offs. But the question is: why must the marginalised others pay the price?

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