40 million Indonesians to elect new leaders

Local polls are seen as a litmus test in people’s desire to stamp out graft, religious intolerance

An Indonesian man hurls a rock at police near the presidential palace in clashes during a rally against governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian accused of insulting Islam, in Jakarta in this Nov. 4, 2016 photo. (Photo by Adek Berry/AFP)

More than 40 million Indonesians will flock to polling stations on Feb. 15, to elect seven governors, 76 district heads and eighteen municipal leaders in regional elections.

The polls are the second round out of seven staggered elections that will eventually cover all 34 provinces in the country

Feb. 15 will see the election of new governors in West Papua, Aceh, Banten, West Sulawesi, Bangka Belitung, Gorontalo, and more significantly Jakarta.

Each province, district or municipality has unique issues to address. But the overall concerns are poverty, rampant corruption and threats against religious and ethnic plurality, according to Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a political analyst.

Radicalism and intolerance are of particular concern, Father Susetyo said.

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo, president of the Indonesian bishops conference, said Catholic voters are being urged to avoid candidates with a corrupt mentality who justify any means to achieve power.

“Let’s be aware, and not trapped in money politics by candidates to secure votes,” he said.

In January, rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace issued a report detailing provinces with the highest number of reported incidents of religious intolerance. Of the seven provinces holding elections on Feb.15, Jakarta, Bangka Belitung and Aceh were in the top 10.

In Jakarta, religion was politicized almost as soon as the gubernatorial race began, triggering acts of intolerance from hard-line groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) which seeks to impose Islamic Shariah law in Jakarta and other areas.

In November and December last year, FPI orchestrated mass protests demanding the imprisonment of Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — popularly known as Ahok — for allegedly insulting Islam. The incumbent governor, who is leading in opinion polls, is currently on trial for blasphemy.

Other figures have been hounded for allegedly hurting religious feelings in speeches, including a Muslim cleric who was forced to abandon a meeting in West Kalimantan after calling locals infidels.

“This is serious problem and new leaders should know how to handle it,” said Father Susetyo.

Corruption and political dynasty

Corruption has long been a problem in Indonesia and an issue that Jakarta’s governor as well as the nation’s president, Joko Widodo, has tried to address in recent years.

Many examples of graft have been practiced in elections with vote-buying and nepotism seen as major problems, according to many activists and also Catholic Church officials.

For many observers, the polls on Feb. 15 will be a good test case on people’s resolve to try and stamp out these problems

“Political parties and candidates must not legitimize any underhand means to win,” said Reverend Henriette Lebang, president of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia.

Politicians have to work for the common good, she said.

Lucius Karus, a political analyst with Indonesian Parliament Watch, said political dynasties should be targeted as the largely involve the exercise of unfair influence, whether it be in the form of bribery or intimidation.

Political dynasties exist in many parts of the country, and are an indicator of the corrupt mentality that has clawed the nation and will perpetuate corruption, he said.

He pointed to one such example in the Jakarta race with Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, son of former president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, looking to unseat Ahok.

Published in UCA News on 10 February 2017

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