Ma’ruf and NU factor
Azis Anwar Fachrudin – 23 May 2019
Ahmad Najib Burhani’s piece in The Jakarta Post (May 9) on the Ma’ruf Amin factor in Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s reelection made two points worth reexamining: that Ma’ruf failed “to boost Jokowi’s electability in Muslim majority regions”, and that Jokowi’s tight alliance with a particular religious group, in this case Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), is prone to slipping into “practicing favoritism or even authoritarianism”. The former demands critical reviewing, while the latter needs caveats.
Najib’s first point was in response to claims that Ma’ruf was appointed as Jokowi’s vice-presidential candidate to shield the incumbent against sectarian attacks and to mobilize support from NU members. Najib’s refutation of these claims were a bit surprising, given that he himself, in his past commentary on the same issue (published on the ISEAS website), was one of the few analysts who argued that Ma’ruf’s main role was that of a shield rather than a vote-getter. His past view was actually more accurate than his latest.
Indeed, Ma’ruf in Banten couldn’t replicate the Jusuf Kalla factor in South Sulawesi where Jokowi won in 2014. The current VP also failed to boost Jokowi’s electability in West Java. Yet in light of the “shield” perspective of reading the election results, the question shouldn’t be why Jokowi didn’t gain more votes, but rather why Jokowi didn’t lose a significant amount of votes he had five years ago in West Java and other vote bases of his rival Prabowo Subianto (which Najib referred to regarding the predominantly NU island of Madura, East Java).
More importantly, as national electoral mapping shows, Jokowi obtained a massive increase of more than 10 percent in both East and Central Java, including Yogyakarta. Note that East and Central Java make up nearly a third of the total voters. Jokowi’s vote gain in these regions, plus another massive increase from non-Muslim voters, compensated his defeat in South Sulawesi and his bigger loss in Prabowo’s vote bases in Sumatra.
At the national level, electoral support for Jokowi from NU members actually increased. Indikator Politik’s exit polls in 2014 and 2019 show that, while NU voters were relatively evenly distributed between the two candidates five years ago, most NU members voted for Jokowi this year, with a margin of 12 percent. This is a massive increase, and the Ma’ruf factor should be strongly suspected to have come into play.
During the campaign period, the rhetoric that NU members should vote for Jokowi because his running mate was a former NU supreme leader was frequently uttered by NU leaders both on the central board and in the NU’s vast network of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools). At the grassroots level, as I encountered during my fieldwork at large pesantren in East and Central Java, that rhetoric was prominent. Key NU national and pesantren leaders who had supported Prabowo in 2014 shifted to Jokowi in 2019, with Ma’ruf’s VP candidacy being one of the main reasons. The real count results on the General Elections Commission website, up to the local level, show that the shift did come into effect. (More on Jokowi’s campaign in pesantren, read my latest piece on the New Mandala website).
So, while more Muslims voted for Prabowo, with a tiny margin (as they did in 2014), the Ma’ruf factor did massively boost Jokowi’s electability among NU voters and — again in light of the “shield” perspective — arguably prevented Jokowi from losing more among Muslim voters.
As for Najib’s second point, the President was already close to the NU in 2014, although five years ago the NU was far less united behind Jokowi than it is today. His VP candidate then, Kalla, was to become a member of NU’s advisory council, while Prabowo’s then-running mate, Hatta Rajasa, was from the National Mandate Party (PAN), a Muhammadiyah-linked party.
For his first Cabinet, Jokowi appointed six ministers with an NU background (four were from the NU-based National Awakening Party/PKB), the largest number of NU affiliates in the Cabinet since the Reformasi. In addition, Jokowi also fulfilled his campaign promise to the NU community in 2015 when he declared Oct. 22 “National Santri [pesantren students] Day”.
Jokowi’s attempt to tighten relations with the NU in 2019, therefore, shouldn’t come as a surprise, be it ideological or transactional: The NU has been the most potential Muslim organization to be his close ally to save him from Islamist attacks, especially as some senior Muhammadiyah figures were inclined to his challenger or had even become harsh critics of the government.
Jokowi arranged cooperation with NU’s bases at the rural grassroots, such as through the Agriculture Ministry, as he did with Muhammadiyah, including with the Environment and Forestry Ministry. Jokowi is indeed channeling aids to NU’s educational institutions. But it was only within the last two years that the Jokowi administration began giving special funds to pesantren, while other non-state finance institutions have received them long before. Without more detailed data, the latest case can still be interpreted between Jokowi’s favoritism of NU or rather affirmative policies to pesantren.
As for concern about authoritarianism, reference to the government’s disbandment of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia means that Jokowi’s alliance with the NU is indeed not good news from a liberal democracy standpoint (perhaps with the exception of Germany, which has also banned the local chapter of Hizbut Tahrir). Prominent NU intellectuals have said that Indonesia’s democracy isn’t a liberal democracy, but rather a Pancasila democracy.
Najib’s concern is indeed valid, legitimate criticism, and I share his aspiration to improve Indonesia’s democracy. However, none of the two camps contesting the presidency really cares about liberal democracy. It barely featured during election campaigns. And we are confronted with imperfect choices: between the NU-backed Jokowi and the Islamist-backed Prabowo. Which one is more potentially supportive of democratic norms? Had Prabowo won, would his presidency not employ authoritarian policies or even be worse than the status quo?
Those questions have to be taken into account if we are willing to be more realistic about Indonesia’s political state of affairs, which has always been a contested arena of patronage, where the state can’t avoid choosing religious groups to accommodate. Najib’s criticism should therefore not only be a concern for the incumbent, but also for the challenger and the religious groups backing him.
Azis Anwar Fachrudin is a staff member of CRCS. This article was originally published at the Jakarta Post, 18 May 2019