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STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT. Jakarta. In the lead up to the legislative and presidential elections in April, the country’s second-largest Islamic organization, Muhammadiyah, is set to hold a leadership meeting that will include addressing the politicization of religion in electoral contests.
Slated to take place in Bengkulu from Feb. 15 to 17, the meeting is expected to gather hundreds of Muhammadiyah executives and high-profile guests, including President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his rival in the presidential election, Prabowo Subianto.
The meeting will carry the theme “Enlightening Way in Religious Life”, as concerns have grown in the organization that religious practice in the country has been “unconstructive”, Muhammadiyah secretary-general Abdul Mu’ti said.
Among issues in the spotlight is the politicization of religion, which has brought about polarization in the 2019 presidential election, creating the idea that one candidate pair represented Muslim society better than the other, Mu’ti said.
The divisiveness, he said, had created the assumption that the incumbent’s camp represented Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation’s largest Islamic organization, of which Jokowi’s running mate, Ma’ruf Amin, was a senior member, while Muhammadiyah was associated with Prabowo.
A number of Muhammadiyah figures, including former leader and National Mandate Party (PAN) patron Amien Rais and Muhammadiyah treasurer Suyatno, were on Prabowo-Sandiaga Uno’s campaign team.
“The function of religion is to bring peace, but instead what has happened is that religion has become a source of disunity,” Mu’ti said, “Religion is not supposed to be a subordinate of politics.”
Muhammadiyah also aims to address other issues, such as “religious commodification” in which religion was exploited for profit, and “symptoms of spiritualization”, where people practiced religion only to receive divine rewards.
The true value of religion, which served as guidance for the faithful, has yet to be institutionalized in social and political practices, Mu’ti said, and Muhammadiyah aimed to show Muslims how enlightening religious teachings were through the meeting.
Unlike the previous leadership meeting, however, the upcoming meeting will not see the attendance of former Muhammadiyah leaders, including Amien Rais, Mu’ti said, because the event’s schedule was packed.
Amien, a supporter of Prabowo in the 2019 election, has been an vocal critic of Jokowi, and has been seen as a controversial figure in Indonesia’s political scene, although he is known as an icon behind 1998 reform, marking the downfall of Soeharto.
Jokowi and Prabowo, who were invited by Muhammadiyah in their capacity as national figures, are scheduled to address participants on separate occasions during the event, Mu’ti said.
The leadership meeting is also set to produce a set of recommendations as Muhammadiyah’s input for the future of the nation. As public attention has focused on the increasingly heated presidential election campaign, it is easy to forget tens of thousands of candidates vying for seats at national and local legislatures.
Nearly 8,000 candidates are running for 575 seats at the House of Representatives and tens of thousands are running for 19,817 seats at provincial, regency or city-level legislative councils (DPRD).
The simultaneous nature of this year’s elections mean the legislative elections have been overshadowed by the hubbub surrounding the presidential race. But even voters who actively seek information have little to go by.
The Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) found that 25.5% or 2,049 of the registered House candidates, opted not to disclose their personal information to the public through the General Elections Commission (KPU) website.
“Many of the legislative candidates’ profiles, visions and missions, as we as their programs are not available on the KPU’s official website,” Perludem executive director Titi Anggraini said recently. “This hurts the spirit of freedom of information for the public and the transparency of the 2019 general elections.” Perludem recommended voters only pick candidates that had made their profiles accessible.
However, the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI), one of the parties that Perludem found to have the highest number of candidates with unavailable information, said it was merely a technical error.
But even candidates who have made their information public have listed very broad or vague goals and programs, most only saying that they wanted to help their parties to victory or “bring prosperity to Indonesia.”
Some candidates, however, have sought to be more explicit and detailed about what they wanted to achieve if voted into office, particularly nonincumbents and those running for the first time.
Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) candidate Dedek Prayudi, for example, listed his motivation as “helping Indonesia take advantage of the demographic bonus that will peak in 2035.” A former demographics and population researcher, Dedek also aimed to get into House Commission IX, which oversees health care and employment.
Golkar Party legislative candidate Christina Aryani, who is running in the second Jakarta electoral district, also said there was not enough substantive information about many legislative candidates.
To rectify this, Christina created a fold-out business card that displayed her social media profiles (Facebook and Instagram), the four issues she is focused on (women’s rights, migrant worker protection, the Indonesian diaspora and the young generation) as well as a brief resume. Titi said that besides the individual candidates, parties also should be better at communicating what programs they would work toward if they won in the election. “This is one of the weakest points in the legislative elections,” she said. “In the future, there should be a debate for party representatives, not only presidential candidates.
Meanwhile, activists from NGOs have tried to remedy the lack of data by providing more information, such as which candidates have graft convictions on their records. Perludem also encouraged voters to take a closer look at women, disabled and indigenous candidates, while the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) has its own coterie of “AMAN envoys” who have a single clear mission of creating legislation to recognize indigenous peoples. AMAN secretary-general Rukka Somboliggi told the Post on Sunday. “Despite the lack of spotlight on the legislative races, we are focused on getting our candidates elected, so that whoever the president is, indigenous peoples will be recognized and protected.” (Red)