Measuring Ma'ruf Amin

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A number of blemishes on his record will be a challenge for the former chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) if he wants to show that he is a better man than people say he is.

    Ma'ruf Amin was chosen by Joko Widodo and his coalition partners in the final moments before the registration for presidential and vice-presidential candidates. It is difficult to deny that v was chosen merely for Jokowi’s electoral reasons – to balance the anti-Islam sentiment used by his opponents against him. As MUI chairman, Ma’ruf is perceived as a ‘resistance figure’ by a group that believes that Islam in Indonesia is under attack. By the incumbent, he is seen as an effective shield to ward off attacks from political opponents. History will show that Jokowi used identity politics to oppose identity politics – a political strategy that might be effective, but damages democracy and endangers diversity.

    There are many controversies linked with Ma’ruf himself. While he was active in the MUI, the religious organization increasingly moved away from protecting the rights of minorities. One of its fatwa, or religious rulings, was that the Ahmadiyah sect was haram, or forbidden, which opened the door to violence against its followers in various regions. Ma’ruf also testified at the blasphemy trial that subsequently led to former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama being jailed. And it was Ma’ruf who issued the fatwa that Basuki had blasphemed – a ruling that provoked huge demonstrations in Jakarta on November 4 and December 2, 2017.

    In the 1945 Constitution, which follows a presidential system, it is clearly stated that the president holds the power of government. In discharging his obligations (not his authority), the president is assisted by a vice president. As an assistant, the vice president is at the same level as ministers, but if the president is permanently unable to continue, it is he or she who replaces the president. In this context, the vice president has a key role.

    Of course, people hope that Ma’ruf is able to answer these challenges. He must be able to complement Jokowi, whose administration in its first period focused on economic development but overlooked law enforcement, eradicating corruption and protecting the rights of minorities. Although this might be difficult, Ma’ruf must be able to play a role in Indonesian foreign politics, defense, culture, and other non-economic policies. It is known that he has received a mandate to manage the sharia (based on Islamic law) economy and to deradicalize hardline religious groups. It seems that Ma’ruf wishes to escape the political identity that he has held as a formal leader of the Muslim faithful. As vice president, he is a state official who must be able to manage the affairs of people of all religions and from every group.

    It is too much to hope that Ma’ruf can become another Hatta, the nation’s first vice president. History shows that although President Sukarno and Hatta were often referred to as the duumvirate, after independence, Hatta became a harsh critic of Sukarno. He took a position as a balancing force, rather than blindly following presidential policies. One of the most important examples was when Hatta expressed an opinion directly at odds with that of Sukarno on the role of citizens in developing the nation. Hatta was of the opinion that every citizen has the obligation to be involved in this development, and because of that political parties as vehicles for public participation in politics must not be restricted. Hatta resigned the vice-presidency in 1956 after the Constitutional Assembly was formed.

    Ma’ruf can learn from Hatta that power is something that is entrusted. Hatta kept his children and family far away from business and politics to avoid conflicts of interest. Ma’ruf should be careful: the temptations of power can lead people astray. He must be able to manage his family so as not to take advantage of his position as a public official for interests of business or politics he is involved with.

    Neither should he consider establishing a political dynasty – something which brings more disadvantages than benefits to the republic. History shows that political dynasties lead to a failure to consolidate democracy because power is held by only a few people. As a non-party figure, Ma’ruf should not be considering consolidating the faithful as a basis for support.

    Five years in the future, Ma'ruf Amin could be remembered in a good light, or a bad. As he entered the Palace following a number of controversies, he should choose the former.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine