Campaign Without SARA and Political Identity in Mass Media


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The strengthening of identity-based exclusivity sentiments has actually begun to appear since decentralization has been implemented through regional autonomy policies in the post-New Order era. A change in the model of circulation of local government power which was originally elected by the DPRD to direct elections has accelerated political competition to the grassroots level. The interest in reaching mass support has made efforts, including the politicization of identity-based issues as a means of political mobilization. The identity is not only related to sociological factors such as Tribe, Religion, Race and Customs (SARA), but also develops include primordialism, social construction of Gender, ideological affiliation, and so on. Various factors that were originally latent and did not generate social segregation in society now manifest a factual threat in the momentum of liberal and increasingly brutal political competition.

Java and Outer Java often appear as a political issue in the Presidential Election. Neither does the issue of the local son in the election of public office. The formation of the political power of government such as the formation of the Cabinet is also in fact the elected President and Vice-President inevitably have to consider not only the aspect of professionalism, but also about the representation of territory, ethnicity, religion, including women, This proves that the identity politics remain a consideration and the interpretation becomes very diverse and subjective according to their respective political tendencies. The experience of Megawati SoekarnoPutri in the 2004 presidential election facing the issue of the prohibition of choosing female leaders is a real manifestation of identity politics derived from social constructions Gender or political pretensions by using beliefs as justification instruments. The problem is not the validity of the value in the belief system adopted, but the political interests of certain groups that hide behind the prophetic aspect of a religious teaching. The above points prove how identity politics becomes a critical point in political competition involving mass support in politics in Indonesia.

How identity politics by using SARA as an issue can be seen again in the experience of competition in elections DKI Jakarta 2017 ago. From 101 Pilkada simultaneously throughout Indonesia in 2017, the elections of DKI Jakarta have dominated the news and seized the attention of all Indonesian people. In fact, the social-political ripples are still felt today by raising various concerns about the strengthening of SARA sentiment that can tear the joints of national unity. The social and political tension in the elections of DKI Jakarta is not only triggered by the strategic political meaning if it controls the capital city of Jakarta, but also because of the emergence of polarization in the community responding to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama alias Ahok statement which at that time apart from being the Governor is also a contestant in the elections of DKI Jakarta.

Ahok was accused of denouncing Islam in his speech in the Thousand Islands citing Al-Maidah verse 51 tendentiously to defend his interests as well as to counter the people who chose or did not vote because of religious preference. This highly sensitive issue immediately rolled like a snow ball after it was widely publicized through various mass media and social media networks, as well as sparking a pro-cons wave involving mass on a massive and national scale. This issue of SARA-based political identity drowns out many other strategic issues that should get people’s attention in the elections, such as program issues, track records, and the personal qualities of competing candidates. The daily mass media coverage during the election period actually helped to accelerate social tension by exposing excessively SARA issues raised in the community.

Criminal Threat

Clifford Geertz has written his research article on The Relion of Java which contains how identity politics becomes part of the political process in Indonesia. Geertz classified Santri, Priyayi and Abangan as identities as political clusters explaining the interrelationship between culture, religion and political affiliation in the politics of the election era of 1955. Geertz describes Santri as a society that strictly adheres to the teachings of Islam in its life and exists in various social classes; Priyayi is identified with aristocracy, emphasizing hindu teaching and social class of bureaucracy; While Abangan as a society that runs a tradition of Javanese syncretism and is associated with a peasant class. Although the identity approach done by Geertz received criticism and is considered inadequate, but often used in analyzing the pattern of affiliation in the politics of the flow that is quite popular today.

When identity politics is brought into the realm of academic discourse, it can bring new insights that enrich the understanding of the political process in Indonesia. However, when SARA preference as the basis of identity politics is transformed in practical politics such as political campaigns and mass mobilization, along with the potential problems arise. SARA as the basis of identity politics is often used as a kind of political justification for exclusion and discrimination against one another. SARA as a campaign tool is manipulated in such a way by labeling stereotypes in certain groups so that it can affect the perception and orientation of community support. This is what ultimately creates a tense intergroup relationship and on the edge of a dangerous communal conflict.

The potential of segregation and social conflict due to SARA manipulation in political campaign of Pilkada is actually anticipated in Article 69 of Law Number 10 Year 2016 about Pilkada as lex specialist. The article states that the campaign is prohibited to question the Basic State, Pancasila and the Preamble of the 1945 Constitution, insulting a person, religion, tribe, race, class of cagub-cawagub / cabub-cawabub / cawakot-cawakot and/or Political Parties and inciting, slandering, Sheep political parties, individuals and/or community groups. The Regional Election Law also states its criminal sanction in Article 187 which implies a prison sentence of at least 3 (three) months or a maximum of 18 months and/or a fine of at least Rp 600,000 or a maximum of Rp 6 million. Criminal threat to this SARA exploitation should be an effective legal tool to ensnare SARA campaigners in Pilkada. The problem is how to look for direct and indirect linkage between the perpetrators of the SARA campaign with the electoral contestants so that they can be criminalized.

Indeed, if we examine the Election Law has stated explicitly criminal sanctions for campaigners who question SARA, but the sanctions are too light compared with other rules as in Law No. 40 of 2008 on the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Law No. 11 of 2008 on ITE. Both laws state that the exploitation of SARA issues is prohibited and threatened with 6 years imprisonment and a fine of Rp 1 billion. Therefore, the criminal penalty in the Election Law against SARA campaign must be supported by effective law enforcement capability so as to prevent and take action against the use of SARA as a venue for covert politicization.

The contestants did not use the SARA issue, but the fact that massive SARA politicization in unofficial opinion competition through various groups of Medsos, dark leaflets, online mass media and public forums outside of official campaigns of course can not be allowed to continue. Although the contestants and their supporters will evade the accusations of racial politicization, it is difficult to avoid that the rampant issue of SARA has a close relationship with political competition in the elections. Successful candidates and teams must take real and effective responsibilities to help prevent the politicization of SARA issues in public discourse spaces, as well as strict and just law enforcement against SARA campaigners.

Smart Campaign

Pilkada campaigns are an opportunity for every candidate to promote improved governance and regional development ideas so as to meet the public interest. Leading policies and programs should be the main issues discourse in public discourse space. Public involvement and voting support are the result of voter political affirmation of program quality and candidate qualifications deemed to fit their preferences. Issues that are programmatic become the main preference for voters in dropping their political support to candidates.

Pilkada campaign should also be interpreted as a means of educating the public to be more “literate” politics. Such a society will use its rational preferences in choosing rather than the emotional aspects that are usually identified with traditional preferences that are more dominant in SARA loyalty than programs. SARA preferences will not be completely lost as a consideration of voters in determining their support, but at least will be balanced in equal terms with less important issues such as program and policy issues.

Efforts to realize the political campaign of the Pilkada which is getting smarter by putting forward the programmatic discourse is certainly not only the responsibility of the candidate and its supporters, but also requires the involvement of all related parties. The mass media has a great role to participate in educating the public to be politically aware and pay attention to important issues in the elections. Francis Pope’s criticism of Coprophillia’s syndrome that hit the mass media for being more often involved in spreading false news (hoaxes), ugliness, and provocative, could be a mirror for the mass media to improve the news and increase its contribution to the progress of society. Participation in the polarization of SARA campaign will only divide society and destroy the unity of nation and state.

The mass media is not only a means to provide information to the public, but is an important asset in building society. Therefore, the involvement of mass media in the effort to stem the politicization of SARA and promote the issue of programs and policies as public discourse in Pilkada become very significant. The mass media will thus be a source of literacy for the community to clarify the issues of SARA politicization that can divide and cause social upheaval, and take part in realizing harmony and maintaining community unity.

SARA must be accepted as an intrinsic fact in every individual and society that need not be questioned and become a commodity to be exploited for the sake of the political interest of momentary power. Diversity or diversity of SARA is a gift of God that should be grateful and become an important social capital for national development. Therefore, SARA’s commodification in politics will only bring conflict and division. All campaigners, election participants, mass media and voters should be able to uphold the basic consensus of the Founding Fathers who have succeeded in building a harmony between diversity so complex, both politically and sociologically. Thus, the aspect of SARA should be re-positioned as a latent factor that does not need to be contested as a way to re-unite unity and unity as a nation state.

*) The author is a graduate alumnus University of Indonesia (UI). Researchers at the Center of Risk Strategic Intelligence Assessment (Cersia), Jakarta.