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The Islam Factor
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (L) speaks during the opening remarks at a trilateral meeting between Afghan, Indonesian and Pakistani clerics to discuss peace and stability in Afghanistan at the presidential palace in Bogor, Indonesia May 11, 2018. Antara Foto/Wahyu Putro A/via REUTERS
Friday, 10 August, 2018 | 08:00 WIB
The Islam Factor

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The incumbent has visited many Islamic boarding schools, or pesantren, in the run-up to the election year. He has claimed this is because he wants to know more about them, saying they are important in building the character of the nation. He also believes the pesantren economy needs developing.

Jokowi also gives the impression that he is enthusiastically embracing this group. In May, he asked Public Works and Housing Minister Basoeki Hadimoeljono to build a public housing complex at the Prof Dr. Hamka Pesantren in Padang. It is no coincidence that West Sumatra is one of five provinces where Jokowi came second to Prabowo Subianto in the 2014 presidential election-the others were West Java, Banten, Gorontalo and West Nusa Tenggara.

There is no denying the fact that in line with Indonesia’s demographic composition, Muslim voters are the majority in every election. It is not surprising that any candidate wanting to win the presidency will put substantive effort into wooing the Muslim vote.

Even so, history shows that the "Muslim vote" is never united, where politics is concerned. Members of the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, the two largest Islamic organizations, have almost never voted the same way. Parties waving the Islamic banner-with varying ideologies-have not garnered a significant share of the vote in any of the elections since the 1998 reforms.

Research shows that Islamic ideology is not particularly popular in Indonesia. People may well become more devout, but this may not lead to an increase of votes for the Islamic parties. Therefore, trying to attract Muslim voters will not necessarily be an effective way to add to Jokowi’s vote chances.

It is possible that Jokowi’s concerns about the "power of Islam" arose from the tough Jakarta gubernatorial election last year, when conservative Islamic forces noticeably strengthened. They brought hundreds of thousands of followers to the streets of Jakarta to oppose incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama-who was seemingly supported by Jokowi. But this force did not last long. When they decided to establish a party, the movement behind the demonstrations of December 2,2016known as the 212 Alumni fell apart.

Of course, Jokowi is not Basuki-the governor caught up in a polemic over an alleged blasphemy in his speech on Thousand Islands. And there is no convincing data to support the claim that Muslims do not support Jokowi. Most of the 52 percent who said they supported him in the latest opinion polls are clearly Muslims. But following the 212 demonstrations, Jokowi has come to believe that Muslim voters do not like him.

Therefore, it would be truly sad if Jokowi now focused his efforts to win over a group that he believes does not support him. Several endeavors have been aimed at rectifying this issue. A number of policies have been passed that are designed to improve his image in the eyes of Muslim voters. Now, as Jokowi and his coalition chooses his running mate, the Muslim factor is seen as a crucial factor.

The next few years will not be easy for the winner of the presidential election. Economic pressures as a result of global developments-including the trade war between the two giants of China and the USA-will need rapid and appropriate responses. The matter of the rupiah exchange rate, which has reached a new low, will also need addressing with the right policies.

In normal circumstances, the role of the vice president is not particularly significant, and is more ceremonial. But in a crisis, the vice president could become the president’s second when dealing with problems. Therefore, Jokowi, who has a fairly good chance of being reelected given his position as the incumbent, needs to find a running mate with the skills to overcome economic obstacles in the short term. Jokowi should not solely use an electoral approach, either in making policy or choosing his running mate.

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