A Bitter Foretaste
    Category: Column By : Taufik Darusman Read : 579 Date : Wednesday, July 01, 2017 - 10:36:22

    It’s still two years before the presidential election in 2019, but to some it’s never too early to test the political waters. And no better time than in last April’s Jakarta gubernatorial race, won by Anies Basweden, with support from the nationalist Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the Islamist Justice Prosperous Party (PKS). He defeated incumbent Basuki Purnama, who was backed by three large nationalist parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Functional Group Party (Golkar) and the National Democratic Party (Nasdem).

    President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is expected to seek re-election in 2019. PDI-P, Golkar and Nasdem have already declared their support for him—setting the stage for a reprise of the Jakarta gubernatorial race but on a national scale, with a different set of players. Vice President Jusuf Kalla, a potential candidate, has a strong political base, but he’s 75 and signaled that he may retire from politics in 2019. With Kalla gone, and no other viable candidate around, Widodo (56) is likely to face Gerindra General Chairman Prabowo Subianto (66).

    Polls show Jokowi enjoying wide public support. The former Jakarta governor is lauded for his simple lifestyle, integrity and assertiveness. Anyone seeking to challenge the nation’s ideology Pancasila or Indonesia’s unity, he said recently, will be firmly dealt with.

    Thanks to an export rebound and strong consumer spending, the economy is buoyant. A successful tax amnesty program garnered the government more than $11 billion to underwrite infrastructure projects and create employment for thousands. Meanwhile, the population living under the poverty level went down from 11.3% in 2015 to 10.7% last year.

    On the international front, Jokowi’s management of the nation has earned him kudos from foreign leaders and rating agencies. The U.S. vice president, the French and Chilean presidents as well as the Swedish king have all recently visited Indonesia. S&P raised Indonesia’s credit rating to investment grade (to BBB- from BB+), in line with Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.

    Jokowi’s opponents have wracked their brains to find his Achilles’ heel. He is a Javanese and a devoted Muslim, untainted by association with the nation’s previous powerholders. All pillars of Indonesian politics, namely nationalists, the clergy and the military, stand firmly behind him.

    By all measures, Jokowi seems assured of a second term. Jokowi-haters are undeterred, however, and engaged in an act of desperation: they have now linked him to the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The first salvo was fired when they claimed the PDI-P was infested with communists. When that failed, they made a similar accusation of his presidential staff. The final blow came when they insinuated, as done in the 2014 presidential election, that Widodo himself was a communist.  

    In a country where a communist is considered worse than a child molester, to be called a PKI sympathizer is serious business. Yet Jokowi was only four years old when the PKI was implicated in the bloody September 30, 1965 coup, and banned a year later—that his opponents would go this far to discredit Jokowi is a foretaste of what to expect in 2019.