TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is a controversy without end. After all the political turbulence that ended with him in jail, now he is back. His book, Call me BTP: Ahok’s Psychological Journey at the Brimob HQ, the story of his experiences while he was imprisoned, was launched this week and is bound to trigger a new debate.
BASUKI'S life has been a roller coaster. While pursuing his career as a regional head and a member of the legislature at Senayan, he had to get by in a world full of intrigues. The choice was to deceive or be deceived – politics with the most banal of faces. He switched parties, attacked and was attacked in an arena that – whether he knew it or not – is very dangerous: identity politics.
It began with a speech he gave at Thousand Islands in the middle of the Jakarta gubernatorial election campaign. After frequent attacks on him because of his religion and ethnicity, Basuki quoted Quranic verse Al-Maidah 51, which many interpret as a ban on Muslims choosing leaders who are Christian or Jewish.
There was nothing wrong with that speech. In his defense in court, Ahok – as he is usually known – admitted quoting the verse because he remembered the people of Belitung, Sumatra. In his birthplace, people praised his work program when he was regent, but did not vote for him as regional head because they did not want to be seen as violating religious teachings.
Then there was the unforgettable political drama: hundreds of thousands of people – supporters of the action continue to insist that it was 7 million – flocked to the National Monument Park to condemn Ahok. It was this mobocracy that resulted in his being jailed. Instead of protecting him, the police named him a suspect. The authorities, and his own ally: President Jokowi, tried to localize the anger of some Muslims by allowing Ahok to become a target.
Since then, identity politics has not gone away. During the 2019 election campaign, Jokowi embraced those who protested against Ahok – a move that was perhaps electorally smart, but that was a betrayal of pluralism and the principle of diversity. Meeting with ulema of the 212 – a number used to remember the date of the huge demonstration against Ahok – Jokowi took the view that he needed to embrace this group to avoid losing votes. Even this was not seen as enough, as Jokowi then chose Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate. Ma’ruf was the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, which issued the blasphemy fatwa (ruling) against Ahok. In the 2019 elections, Jokowi and Ma’ruf were elected as president and vice-president.
This type of identity politics has now become something that is both condemned and sought after. It is attacked in official speeches but allowed to continue on the quiet. Politics has now appeared with the evilest of faces, to use the term of philosopher Paul Ricoeur.
But is Ahok simply a victim? To his critics: no. Ahok often played with fire – touching on sensitive topics in his speeches that tended to be blunt, while hoping for an electoral effect. For example, he often referred to himself as an “unbeliever” in an effort to mobilize pluralists to support him. This provocative approach was seen as a step too far.
Of course, it is not fair to only view Ahok through the lens of identity politics. Outside this, he has many achievements. His initiative in reforming the Jakarta city funding deserves praise. He implemented a system of online budgeting so that dishonest officials would not be able to include fake projects. Ahok also improved the face of Jakarta: widening rivers to anticipate flooding, and building many parks, including cleaning up the Kalijodo prostitution neighborhood. He built links with the private sector, looking for funding initiatives.
Although he made the middle classes happy, Ahok was seen as not being on the side of lower-income groups. He moved displaced people to modern public accommodation, but this was criticized for removing these people from the places where they grow up. He was also accused of defending the interests of the developers in the Jakarta Bay reclamation project.
Ahok’s commitment to human rights was also questioned. He was a consistent utilitarian, who freely admitted that he would be prepared to kill 2,000 people to save 10 million others.
After 625 days in jail, Ahok says he has changed. He no longer bears a grudge and even respectfully kissed the hand of Ma’ruf when they met at the Palace. Whatever the next chapter in Ahok’s story, we must all bear the consequences of the increasing dominance of identity politics in this country.
Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine