Indonesian elections: Prabowo favoured amid controversy over Jokowi (even among Catholics)
by Mathias Hariyadi

Tomorrow the country will choose its new president and vice president. The latest polls suggest that the current defence minister will win with Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of the outgoing president. Remarks by the Archbishop of Jakarta, Card Ignatius Suharyo, about the "collapse" of democracy and the Old Testament stir social media with people giving vent to hate but also expression of maturity.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – A day before voters cast their ballots in Indonesia’s presidential election, remarks by Archbishop Card Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta about outgoing President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, deemed critical by some, have sparked a controversy.

The issue began with an attack by academics against the president, because, in their view, the country’s democracy collapsed under his leadership. Following the criticism, some universities and scholars allege that they were suffered intimidation and attacks by the police.

On social media, the cardinal's remarks and the issue of democratic rights and freedoms have generated heated discussions among Catholics, pitting supporters against critics of President Joko Widodo, who has led the world’s most populous Muslim country for 10 years.

While religion played a role in the past, like in the 2019 presidential elections, in identity politics and a clash between moderates and fundamentalists, in this election personal attacks and innuendos seem to prevail.

The integrity of political rivals and opposing factions is questioned without hesitation with charges of malfeasance, graft, and nepotism, with bullying tactics that flood social media, often via smartphones.

Despite online hate campaign among the three main tickets for the posts of president and vice president, which has inevitably affected the election campaign, no violent incidents have been reported hitherto, a sign of greater maturity among voters.

In this election, “Indonesians have not been driven by a destructive feeling,” said Hung, a financial expert from South Jakarta. Quarrels "have been limited to the virtual world".

Card Suharyo’s remarks reverberated among Catholics though; for some people, they are critical of the president.

“Any power can collapse,” said the prelate, if it does not heed the "criticism coming from the "watchdogs of morality: academia and other prominent figures."

AsiaNews spoke to the cardinal for a clarification. He said he was surprised by the affair. All he did was to respond “spontaneously” to an "unexpected" question about views expressed by academics vis-à-vis the outgoing president. In his statement, he cited the Old Testament where it mentions the "collapse" of ancient Jewish kingdoms due to the failure to heed “the views expressed by the prophets."

Some have interpreted such words as an "attack" by the Catholic Church, fuelling arguments "for and against Jokowi." Other bishops have also been dragged into the matter, when in fact some have had "cordial meetings" with the outgoing leader.

Reacting to the situation, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI) reiterated the traits that a future president should have: integrity; upholding the country’s principles like Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, human rights; protecting the country’s interests; not pursue personal gains; care for those most in need; show respect for humans and God's creatures.

Meanwhile, the latest polls give the lead to the ticket of Gen (ret) Prabowo Subianto, the current Minister of Defence, and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, son of the outgoing president, with more than 50 per cent, far ahead of the other tickets. To be elected, candidates also need at least 20 per cent of the vote in 19 of Indonesia's 38 provinces.

For Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Jesuit philosopher and morality expert, elections should be considered a political means to prevent “bad guys" from governing the country.