Post Election Follow Up

The quick counts of the Jakarta Governor election have marked the re-emergence of an elite political force in Indonesia, and shown that religion can be used to swing votes. What this means for Indonesia is likely to play out over the next two years in the lead-up to the presidential election.

The official result won’t be released until May, however the quick counts have given victory to Anies Baswedan, and the outgoing Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is better known as Ahok, has conceded. Most exit polls show a margin between the two that was higher than expected … around 43% to 57%.

There is concern that the campaign was dominated by questions of race and religion rather than policy, and having proved successful, this is a tactic that could be used again.

It was noted, by the nation’s chief investment officer at a major economics conference the day after, that it was a calm and democratic election. Others have pointed out that the respectable electability of around 40% the Chinese-Christian candidate Ahok prior to the election was not built on.

There has been much focus about what this election means for the prospect of a rising Islamist conservatism in Indonesia and the nation’s much-touted pluralism. Some seasoned watchers have said that at this point what it does show is how fringe groups, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), have the ability to mobilise people and reach out on an issue, while forming a political alliance.

As Melbourne University PHD Candidate Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir told SBS news “The FPI are more an instrument of the elite…”This group is actually very small…they have no dominant influence in politics, but because of the Jakarta local election, Anies supported them to attack Ahok.”

Ahok was an ally of the current President, Joko Widodo. And Jokowi, as he is called, has been leading a charge to increase investment in the country to create more jobs and industry. As Douglas Ramage, managing director for Indonesia for business risk firm Bower Group Asia, told This Week in Asia “The immediate impact of the election is the harm this does to Indonesia’s brand, relative to its neighbours, when newspapers are claiming Islamic extremists are making advances here.”

The incoming Governor, Anies Baswedan, is backed by the Gerindra party, which is headed by Prabowo Subianto, the man who lost the Presidential campaign in 2014. This election has seen his ambitions re-surface.

The scene could be further complicated if the winner, Anies Baswedan, also puts himself in the 2019 Presidential race as some are expecting. Mr Baswedan has promised as Governor to focus on social justice and protecting Jakarta’s diversity.

For the past few years business has been seeing some improvements in governance and bureaucratic systems. A poll by ratings agency Fitch prior to the election found that “domestic political turbulence was seen as the biggest risk to the otherwise upbeat outlook in 2017” ahead of Fed policy normalisation and trade protectionism as the primary risks to the outlook.

Attention will be on the further progress of President Joko Widodo to implement plans to reform systems and build vital infrastructure. His friend and former deputy Ahok was an important ally who shared those ideas. The politics within Indonesia has just become even more interesting.

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