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2014 Election Turning Into a Tale of Deep Divisions

2014 Election Turning Into a Tale of Deep Divisions

By Nurhayat Indriyatno & Kennial Caroline Laia on 07:50 am Jun 20, 2014

Jakarta. Months before a single ballot had been cast in the presidential election, Indonesia’s oldest Islamic party was facing its most serious upheaval ever, one that threatened to tear it apart.

The kernel of that discontent was the unilateral endorsement by Suryadharma Ali — the chairman of the United Development Party (PPP) — of Prabowo Subianto, the presidential candidate from the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).

An uproar ensued, in which Suryadharma declared his chief critics within the PPP dismissed; they in turn held a congress in which they ordered the chairman fired.

After days of recriminations and hand-wringing, the party officials finally put their differences aside and went on to back Prabowo.

That story of the PPP sums up an election season that has differed starkly from the two previous polls for the deep divisions it has created — or exposed.

Two-horse race

One of the main differences between the election this year and those in 2004 and 2009 is that there are only two candidates running this time around.

There were five candidates in 2004 and three in 2009, which observers say gave the various political parties and other stakeholders more choice in terms of identifying the candidate most closely aligned with their own values and platforms.

Not so this year. Analysts point to the split between the Islamic parties, which have historically tended to band together behind a single candidate. This time, though, three of the four parties with seats at the House of Representatives, including the PPP, have backed Prabowo, while the fourth, the National Awakening Party (PKB), has endorsed Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Even the avowedly neutral Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the only one that has refused to endorse either candidate, has been affected.

Several senior Democrats, including House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Alie, have joined Prabowo’s camp, and House Democrat chairwoman Nurhayati Ali Assegaf has been quoted as saying that 115 of the party’s 148 House members will back Prabowo.

The Golkar Party is perhaps the most extreme example of a party riven: The party is officially part of Prabowo’s coalition, but its former chairman, Jusuf Kalla, is the running mate to Joko. The party has already seen several high-profile desertions as senior members and even a co-founder side with Joko, while chairman Aburizal Bakrie, who at one point had hoped to run for president himself, has threatened to fire any card-carrying Golkar member publicly voicing their support of Joko.

Beyond the parties

There is also a grab on for the votes of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Islamic organization, which has an estimated 40 million members, mostly in densely populated East Java.

Prabowo’s campaign manager, Mahfud M.D., is a prominent NU member and highly regarded as the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court. He also has roots in Madura, East Java, and is leaning on his network in the region to round up the NU votes.

However, he faces a stiff challenge in the form of fellow NU member Khofifah Indar Parawansa, who is running things on the ground in East Java for Joko’s team. Analysts say Khofifah has arguably a higher profile in the region, having run for governor there twice, and losing both times by a narrow margin.

Split loyalties in the NU leadership have also come to light, with Said Agil Siradj, the NU chairman, expressing his support for Prabowo, and Hasyim Muzadi, his predecessor, siding with Joko.

But Salahuddin Wahid, another former NU chairman, popularly known as Gus Solah, says the division in the organization is nothing new, and comes about during every election cycle.

Gus Solah, the younger brother of the late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, says it’s natural that different NU members and officials will have different preferences, but emphasizes that the group itself has never endorsed any candidate in any election.

“Nahdlatul Ulama has been divided in terms of support for presidential candidates. It’s the same with Muhammadiyah,” he says, referring to the country’s second-biggest Islamic organization.

“The same goes for other grass-roots organizations,” he adds. “It all comes down to the sheer size of the country and the varied cultures of the citizens.”

The country’s business community has also been dragged into the fray, with top officials from the two leading business lobby groups — one representing local businesses and the other responsible for drumming up foreign investment — taking up opposing positions.

Sofjan Wanandi, the chairman of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo), is a fervent supporter of Joko, and has even been reported as being instrumental in getting the PDI-P to select Kalla as the candidate’s running mate.

Prabowo’s campaign spokesman, meanwhile, is the businessman Sandiaga Uno, a member of the board of advisers at the Indonesian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

Neither Kadin nor Apindo have formally endorsed either of the candidates. Both Prabowo and Joko are scheduled to present their platforms to Kadin officials on Friday.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla, a member of Nahdlatul Ulama and a Democrat who openly supports Joko, says that despite the deep polarization in this year’s election, the threat of violence breaking out is small.

“Some parties have raised concerns about the deep splits, but it’s not something to be worried about,” he says. “The recent rifts that have developed in organizations like the NU or Muhammadiyah, or parties like the Democrats won’t translate into violence for the upcoming presidential election.”

 

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