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Thousands of Islamist supporters rally in Jakarta

Shamil Shams
December 2, 2018

Hardline Muslim groups held the rally to mark the second anniversary of demonstrations that forced Jakarta's Christian ex-governor to step down. An Islamist-linked politician is now seeking to become president.

A Muslim demonstration in Jakarta
Image: Reuters/Antara Foto/Sigid Kurniawan

Thousands of people marched in Indonesia's capital Jakarta on Sunday as the country's Islamists seek to topple President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) in next year's presidential election.

The rally also marked two years since the toppling of Jakarta's Christian ex-governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. The 2016 Islamist demonstrations against Purnama's alleged blasphemy forced him to resign from his post. The former governor was later jailed for two years.

Sunday's demonstration was attended by former general and ultranationalist politician Prabowo Subianto, who has strong links to Islamists and is seeking to win the April 2019 poll. Subianto was narrowly defeated by the incumbent president in the 2014 vote.

Read more: Opinion: Blasphemy verdict mainstreams Islamization in Indonesia

At least 100,000 Indonesians — many of whom dressed in white and carried Islamic flags — participated in the Sunday rally.

"We are proud because Islam in Indonesia is Islam that unifies and is united and will maintain peace for everyone," presidential hopeful Subianto told the crowd.

Aburizal Bakrie, accompanied by top members of his coalition party
Parabowo Subianto, who has strong links to Islamists, is seeking to win the April 2019 pollImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana/Detail

Increasing Islamization

Experts say conservative Muslim groups in Indonesia have been rapidly gaining influence in the country.

Political figures in the country, where Muslims account for around 85 percent of the over 260-million strong populace, are also becoming increasingly willing to make common cause with conservative and even extremist Muslim organizations in pursuit of their electoral goals.

"Religion is being used by Indonesian politicians as a means of winning elections. This is even more dangerous than money-driven politics," Ray Rangkuti, an Indonesian political analyst, told DW.

Read more: Why Indonesia's Islamists are targeting Jakarta's Christian governor

This view is shared by Zaky Yamani, an Indonesian journalist. "Politicians here still use religion to win public support. The citizens also support the use of religious issues in politics. This situation is bad for the climate of pluralism in Indonesia," he told DW.

On the question of whether Jokowi can maintain his support base and win the next elections without pivoting toward a more religiously-inspired hardline stance, experts say he will be able to do that as there is no credible alternative to him at this point.

"There is no other candidate so far considered to rival the popularity of Jokowi," said Sumanto al Qurtuby, cultural anthropologist and professor at King Fahd University in Saudi Arabia. But his electoral fate will ultimately depend on how the political parties form their alliances, he noted.

But some disagree, arguing that adopting conservative moves would actually be bad for Jokowi. "He could lose a significant chunk of his voters, and gain nothing as those who like those kinds of policies wouldn't vote for him," Yohanes Sulaiman, a political analyst and lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, told DW.

In a bid to counter pressure from Islamists, President Jokowi nominated cleric Ma'ruf Amin as his vice presidential candidate.

Read more: 'Indonesia is on the brink of disaster'

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