Jakarta’s gubernatorial election has just over. Anies-Sandi has won the election with by a land slide from incumbent candidate, Ahok-Djarot. Despite all that, the discussion and debates regarding the whole process is far from over. Those debates are still found among political scientists on public fora to family members on Whatsapp groups. With its magnitude of political interests, media coverages, and attentions from the whole nation, few would argue that the impact of this provincial election would end right after the official announcement from KPU. Instead, many believe that this election will shape or at least be useful to predict the outcome of presidential election in 2019.
For many experts, one of the most baffling issues in this election is the loss of Ahok despite having really high approval rating among Jakarta’s resident[i]. Many experts, like Mietzner[ii] suggested that the identity politics is the one strong reason to explain this anomaly. While Ian Wilson and few others argue that Ahok’s own policies that further marginalized urban poor is the most important factor of his loss. Regardless of this debate, there is also issue that I believe is equally (if not more) important to discuss, which is the strong manifestation of authoritarian aspirations in this local election.
Almost a year before Jakarta’s election, Amanda Taub wrote an article[iii] in which she addressed the correlation between Trump’s instant rise to authoritarian political preferences among voters. By using several political studies as references, she shows how the massive support for Trump did not merely grow out of his political persona. On the contrary, it is more about the rise of authoritarians among US citizen then about Trump’s unique personalities. His boastful persona tapped into the growing number of people who shared specific preferences to authoritarianism. In fact, this specific trait shows much better correlation with support for Trump in comparison with other variables like religion or income[iv]. Who are these peoples? As Taub pointed out, they are the ones who values order and authority highly while also having strong distrusts to social change and outsiders. They are also the same people who tend to see the world around them as getting more chaotic, hence aspiring to have a strong leader that is perceived strong enough to address the entire problems around them.
How do these explanations fit into the current situation in Jakarta? If we look into Jakarta’s election, it is of course impossible to say with certain tone that the exact similar situation is happening, since we have yet any comparable research to back this claim. Nevertheless, it would be reckless to dismiss the possibility that we are experiencing similar situation since many signs led to such reading. The first sign is already discussed by many experts, is the exploitation of identity politics. During the whole process, identity politics were heavily exploited particularly by those who opposed the candidacy of Ahok. Labels such as non-believers, Chinese, or hypocrites were used on banner, blogs, and shouts during series of mass rally. Those labels expressed ideas that Ahok and to some extent his voters are part of outsiders who threaten those who perceived themselves as the rightful majority residents in Jakarta. The second parallelism of Jakarta’s election to US case could also be seen on how some extreme conservative groups could take over strategic political position by articulating the identity politics. Prior to this election, figures like Habib Rizieq were never truly seen as religious leader who represent mainstream Islam in Indonesia. Yet, during 212 rally he was able to stand side by side with Islamic national figures such as Aa Gym and Arifin Ilham, and led at least ahundred thousand of people in the rally which demanded prison for Ahok. In the next rally, the participants even pledged their allegiance to Habib Rizieq and crowned him as the Great Imam of Indonesian Muslim[v] at Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. Similar to Steve Bannon, Habib Rizieq managed to bring himself and his organization, FPI, which once was minor religious vigilante group to become the central symbol of Islamic movement in relatively short time.
How should we explain this massive use of identity politics and the instant rise of hardline figures such as Habib Rizieq? There are many layers at play on these issues, and we should not rule out many possible explanations yet. As Allan Nairn suggested, it is hard to deny the possibility that these developments were orchestrated by Indonesian political elites[vi]. The Jakarta’s urban poor resentment is another important explanation on why they channeled their aspiration to organization like FPI[vii]. Aside from those explanations, I believe we should also look into the possibility that just like in the US there might be large numbers of voters who adhere to authoritarian values in Jakarta or even Indonesia.
This last notion might not be very clear if we solely focus on the final two candidates. After all, both Anis and Ahok have their own merit in what we could perceive as authoritarian traits. Ahok, as many critics have said[viii] tend to ignore any political dissent particularly regarding his policy on evictions and forced displacement. On the other hand, Anis scrapped his old public persona as moderate Muslim figure and chose to align with Habib Rizieq instead[ix]. His political consultant also publicly suggested to use mosque and religious sentiment to win his candidacy[x]. At the same time, none of these two figures openly portray themselves on their campaign as strongman leader that would usually be the ideal candidates for authoritarian oriented voters. However, on recent elections Anis-Sandi most likely became the preferred candidate for those authoritarian oriented voters. It is at least reflected on the shared worldview of its supporter that they are part of the oppressed and marginalized majority hence they need to reclaim the ownership of Jakarta from ‘the other’ like Ahok.
This sentiment should not be seen as an independent phenomenon rises only in the recent development of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election. It is also manifested on the nostalgia of New Order regime[xi], the circulating rumor of communist rising, or the fear that China will take over Indonesia under Jokowi’s presidency. All of those sentiments shared the fear of change, that the world around them has become something unfamiliar, which as we have seen in the US will lead to expectations to have different kind of leaders. These kinds of leaders will present themselves as strong figures that could bring order out of this political and social mess. It is worth reminding that, these types of leaders is a representation of its society. Hence, it is probably more important for us to learn more about authoritarian traits among voters then focus on the politicians. This effort in itself is not a simple task, since as Taub pointed out, authoritarian political preferences could be latent. It means that these voters might not show their authoritarian traits until they felt threatened by either social change or perceived group of people. These fears are a precondition to the rises of authoritarian leaders which ironically has become familiar to most Indonesian since at least 2014.
While we may have yet to see Indonesian version of Trump among Indonesian politicians, the rises of authoritarian leaders is not too far fetch. In 2014, we have seen Prabowo’s rhetoric on foreign interventions as the culprit of Indonesian problems. On this election Habib Rizieq managed to project himself as the leader of political Islam. Therefore, it should not be a surprise if in 2019 one or more authoritarian-type of candidates with promises to bring order to this perceived chaotic Indonesia, may win the presidential election. Having said the aforementioned, it is of course necessary to have more study about this authoritarian tendency or else we would always be blindsided by any recent political developments in Indonesia. Further, many assumptions discussed in this article are the kinds that I will be very happy to be proven wrong. We have had enough experience with authoritarian leader to know that it is bad for our democracy. Thus, let us not allow a bitter history to repeat itself. (Ibnu Nadzir)