Pilkada DKI 2017: A Possible Repeat of US Presidentials 2016?

#2 Candidates Ahok-Djarot (Left) and #3 Candidates Anies-Sandi (Right)

Tomorrow is the 2nd Round of the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election — or “Pesta Demokrasi”, as how Indonesians like to refer political elections as. And like many pesta I’ve gone to before, I always have mixed feelings about it.

On one hand, excitement is gushing through my veins. We’re so tired with all the boring and depressing routines of our lives and this pesta is THE opportunity for us to shake it off. Less than 20 years ago, we didn’t have this much control over our lives — everything was so centralized in the hands of a corrupt political elite. Looking at where we are now: direct, fair, free, and transparent elections happening in Indonesia, this is definitely an exciting time to be alive.

But on the other hand, fear and worry also fills my brain. Like in many pesta, I’m afraid some people just can’t handle their shit. They wanna suck up all the fun for themselves and leave nothing for the rest of us. Don’t even get me started when they get so drunk: their rationality shuts off and their animalistic instincts kick in, bringing out the worst in humanity. In this election, so many were intoxicated with religious animosity, racial sentiments, fueled by hoaxes and fake news.

And like most pesta, my fear and worry often overpowers the excitement, leaving me in anxiety instead.

In many ways, this Pilkada reminds me of the recent US Presidential election. It’s a race between an extremely competent candidate who has dedicated his life to public office but somehow always gets entangled in major controversies; versus a surprising challenger candidate with populist messages and promises, showcasing strong principles, but also hypocritically opportunistic — we’ve seen what he’s said and stood for in the past, and yet those things conveniently change to fit his newfound ‘voter base’. It’s a fight between a long-term centrist technocrat versus a sudden right-wing populist.

Yupp, you guessed it: I’m saying that Basuki Purnama (“Ahok”) is Hillary Clinton and Anies Baswedan (“Anies”) is Donald Trump.

Before you scream “that is an extreme comparison!”, I’m screaming it first. I can’t even believe myself drawing the analogy because I recognize there are many ways in which the candidates differ with their US counterparts. But the similarities in circumstances are also numerous and I can’t ignore those either.

Hillary Clinton is a formidable politician in her own right. Her work before she ran for President is impeccable — a politically active First Lady, two-term Senator, and former Secretary of State to boot. But one thing kept her from reaching the Oval: she was a woman. Despite many women leaders driving companies in boosting the national economy, female athletes winning Olympic medals, and female scientists/academicians making breakthrough discoveries and researches — politics seems to be the glass ceiling for women in the US. Hillary has been viewed as cold, untrustworthy, and calculated — the usual narrative being used to paint a woman running for higher office. The gender bias also makes her an easy target for controversy, which somehow doesn’t apply to her fellow male politicians: the Benghazi hearing, the e-mail scandal, and the list goes on.

Ahok also had a great track record of service in his native East Belitung as a Regent and as a legislator in the House of Representatives before resigning to run as Jakarta’s Deputy Governor with Jokowi, and finally taking the Governor position when his running mate was elected as Indonesia’s President. And just like Hillary, his identity became a problem for his bid for re-election: he is of Chinese-descent and a Christian, a double minority in Indonesia. Despite many Chinese-Indonesian descents proving themselves as leading entrepreneurs, winners of international sport and non-sport awards, and the brightest minds in the country — politics also seem to be the glass ceiling for Chinese-Indonesians.

People’s distrust to Ahok are based on an old racial prejudice: that those of Chinese-descents aren’t “really Indonesian”, that they’re immigrants trying to steal opportunities and land away from the pribumi (natives). There is a long historical resentment directed at non-natives dating way back from the Dutch colonial times. At the time, the Dutch imposed a three-tier racial separation hierarchy: Europeans, who were the colonials, are at the top; then partial European descendants as well as other foreigners such as the Chinese, Arabs, Indians; and finally at the bottom, the natives. The separation is deeply embedded in many minds of today’s Indonesians, that Chinese-descent are not in the same category as natives.

It didn’t help either that Soeharto’s New Order constructed a new primordial ethnocentrism, by orchestrating a massive negative campaign against communism. Those of Chinese-descents are automatically assumed communist on the virtue of their race, because China is highly known as a communist state. His “kafir” status made it easy to accuse him of religious blasphemy, when in fact many others before him have said worse things about religion and were shrugged off like it was nothing.

What about Trump and Anies? They couldn’t be anymore different, right? Trump is disgustingly incompetent and has never held public office while Anies has served as a key Minister, with so many prior grassroots activism such as Indonesia Mengajar.

True.

Anies is way more competent than Trump probably ever will be. But there is one thing that makes them the same: the hunger for power, that you’re willing to pander to anything to win. Trump was caught lying on record countless times, changing his positions on virtually everything. He used racial prejudice and bigotry to elevate his platform, resulting in an endorsement from the KKK.

Anies, despite his approach being more subtle and less explicit, is no different. He was known as a liberal scholar (at least a moderate ally, if not liberal) who advocated for many progressive policies during his tenure as Minister of Education. But now he associates himself with FPI (Islamic Defender Front), the radical right-wing group who thinks only their rights matter and that gives them justification to trample on others’. FPI is responsible for many unauthorized raids on private residences and business establishments just because they feel like doing it. FPI has shut down numerous events on leftism, liberalism, sexual minorities, and gender equality — something Anies used to be an ally for.

Anies’ campaign also utilized racial and religious lines, but in coded messages. Take for example, the establishment of an official Anies supporter group named PRISAI — short for Pribumi Suka Anies-Sandiaga (Natives Love Anies-Sandiaga), distinguishing himself as the champion of Pribumi interests (if such a thing does exist). Anies’ mannerism also changed — he now makes public appearances wearing peci, a traditional Muslim male head-wear, and never forgets to greet the public with Assalamualaikum, a constant reminder to all of us of his Muslim-ness and how Muslim-less Ahok is. So while Trump scapegoated Muslims, Blacks, and Latinxs for America’s troubles, Anies capitalized the existing resentment towards Ahok’s minority identities as an incompatibility to address Jakarta’s needs — the need for a moral leader.

This is a pesta that I am wary of, because despite all the good promises offered by both hosts, I’m genuinely afraid some attendees will decide to choose a host on the basis that the other host and his kind don’t deserve to be in the pesta. Many voter intimidation have been indicated, for example: a call to not provide shalat jenazah (prayer for the deceased) of those who voted for Ahok or the organization of an Al-Maidah Tour Group consisting of allegedly 1.3 million people who will “observe” and “guard” 13,032 polling stations for tomorrow’s election. The same group also vows to ensure Ahok does not win the election, insinuating possible voter intimidation.

Despite his flaws, I’m voting #2 tomorrow, the same way I supported Hillary (though I am not an American voter). Both Hillary and Ahok has awful policies that I disagree with. I dislike Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy approach and her cozy relationship with Wall Street. I absolutely condemn Ahok’s forceful relocation and proposed reclamation policies. But that is the risk of being a centrist — you will do things that will piss off either side of the aisle because you’re not firmly aligned with either one.

I believe that it’s easier to fix and change bad policies, rather than a bad ideology of governance.
I believe in a democracy that credits merit when its due.
I believe in honest representation, that you fight for something because you believe in it and not because it’s politically convenient for you.
I pray for Jakarta’s conscience that its majority will vote #2 too.