Analysis – By Patrick Tibke in Jakarta
An intriguing 10 days of presidential campaigning in Indonesia has culminated in mild disarray for Prabowo Subianto’s “red-and-white” coalition as tensions emerged among senior members of the old general’s Gerindra party with just four weeks left until election day on July 9.
The contention in question is the coalition’s nascent alliance with a grouping of violent thug organisations, particularly the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front, of FPI), which is well-known for attacks on Indonesia’s religious minorities and so-called tempat maksiat (places of vice or iniquity).
Prabowo and his running mate Hatta-Rajasa’s willingness to get into bed with some of Indonesia’s most notorious radical Islamists has called into question the duo’s commitment to religious tolerance and human rights. Prabowo has been accused of tacitly condoning violent bigotry and turning a blind eye to religiously-motivated attacks on Indonesian citizens.
The most conspicuous cleavage has pitted Prabowo’s billionaire younger brother and deputy chief patron, Hashim Djojohadikusomo, against author and deputy chairman of Gerindra, Fadli Zon. Evidently dismayed by the possibility of his brother’s party courting an alliance with known Islamic radicals, Hashim has pledged to quit Gerindra if the movement ever accepted the backing of the FPI.
As a practising Christian, Hashim seems acutely aware of the threat to religious freedoms posed by the thug collective, and has sought to distance both himself and his party from any such pact with the FPI. Hashim has taken a strong stance on this particular issue for quite some time now, and even cited “growing religious intolerance” as one of three “urgent threats” to Indonesia’s future in an article for the Huffington Post earlier this year.
These sentiments were reiterated by Hashim at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents club late last week, where the businessman cum big-money politician also attempted to take the flak off his older brother’s back, assuring his audience that Prabowo “has been defending Pancasila and pluralism all his life.”
Both domestic and international media remain unconvinced, however, and key Gerindra party figures such as Fadli Zon have done little to quell the fears of Indonesia’s persecuted minorities.
So far Fadli has adopted a worryingly indifferent attitude towards serious accusations that his coalition is currently pandering to religious extremists. Last Wednesday, for example, Fadli proclaimed that Gerindra welcomes political support from any group, nonchalantly adding that the FPI is just “one organisation” among “thousands” of others who lend their support to Gerindra “every day”.
Without even a hint of concern, Fadli also dodged questions on the FPI’s back catalogue of religious violence, telling reporters that, “We [Gerindra] do not talk about track records, we talk about the presidential election.”
Consequently, two of the most senior members of Prabowo’s entourage now appear to be at loggerheads. Prabowo seems to have firmly sided with the FPI already, rendering Hashim’s threat of resignation somewhat unsubstantiated, to say the least.
Since entering into the much-condemned electoral pact with the FPI just before horrific mob attacks on Christian minorities in Yogyakrta at the end of last month, Prabowo’s public rhetoric has been conspicuously inconsistent, incorporating an unworkable mixture of both Fadli’s indifference and Hashim’s concern.
On Tuesday, May 27, at a meeting with FPI members and the group’s grand imam, Rizieq Shibab, Prabowo spoke of the need to “embrace all community organisations, including the FPI.” Just one week later, however, Prabowo was under pressure to give censure to the attacks in Yogyakarta, claiming that, “We [the ‘red-and-white’ coalition] do not justify violence of any sort, let alone unlawful attacks on [different] ethnicities, religions or other groups.”
If this was true then we could expect to see Prabowo explicitly pulling out of his alliance with the FPI, but the embattled old general has stuck his newfound pact and merely tried limit the damage done to his campaign by shifting the blame onto the radicals themselves.
On Thursday, June 5, for example, a spokesperson for the red-and-white coalition, Bara Hasibuan, told the media, “It wasn’t us looking for the support of the FPI, but it was they who came to a religious gathering to offer their support to Prabowo and Hatta.”
Teetering on edge
The Gerindra-led coalition now appears to be teetering on the edge of a major internal breakdown as it flip-flops on important issues of religious violence and refuses to rescind its alliance with the FPI. Fadli Zon has since tried to limit the impact of Gerindra’s infighting by characterising religious conflict as something which the party needn’t have an official stance on: “We have private opinions”, he told reporters last week, “and we have the opinions of the [campaign] team. Differences in opinion are just normal.”
Hashim, on the other hand, has attempted to execute a sort of smoke-and-mirrors manoeuvre in claiming that he would quit the party if and when it agrees to accept an endorsement from the FPI, when in actual fact, Gerindra already accepted that endorsement almost two weeks ago, and the FPI is not shying away from making the agreement public. Last week, for example, an FPI representative for Central Java promised 10,000 votes for Prabowo-Hatta from FPI sympathisers in his province, based on the ‘red-and-white’ coalition’s perceived “commitment” to Islamic law.
Gerindra’s stance on Islamic fundamentalism and the violence which typically accompanies its advocates remains incredibly obscure, all the more so considering Hashim’s vocal rejection of any such alliance with the FPI. The only thing that we can say for sure is that Prabowo is looking ever more desperate to garner votes from all sources in the final stages of the campaign season, and is evidently willing to work with some of Indonesia’s most reviled Islamists in order to augment his chances of victory.
As we have seen over the past week or so, however, such dangerous politicking could have serious unintended repercussions for Gerindra’s intra-party relations, and the fissures could well expand beyond Hashim and Fadli to other cadres much less senior in rank. In the coming days we will see how Prabowo attempts to patch this one up, lest he risk creating a rift between himself, his deputy chairman and his indispensible sibling bankroller, Hashim.
Patrick Tibke writes for Asian Correspondent.