Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers


March 25, 2017

Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for geert wilders, marine LePen, and Trump

Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders– The Fearmongers

Possibly the best-known comment on fear is US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s attempt in his 1933 first inaugural address to encourage Americans facing the great depression with the ringing reminder that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

But of course what Roosevelt and many others who had expressed this sentiment before him actually meant was that what we have to fear is excessive fear.Because a moderate degree of fear, or at least caution, is essential to the maintenance of human, indeed all animal, life in the face of potential threats like hunger, thirst or physical assault.

So that, as a former Australian government sensibly advised its populace following the terrorist bombings in Bali bombings that killed a good many of its own and other countries’ citizens in 2002, it pays to be “alert, but not alarmed”.

This represented a most welcome change of attitude from the state of xenophobic paranoia if not outright panic at the imagined threat of being swamped by the so-called ‘yellow peril’ that until all too recently inspired the disgracefully racist so-called ‘White Australia Policy’.

However relatively less fearful my country has sensibly and mercifully become, though, ugly traces of old anti-other attitudes unfortunately persist in the disordered minds of at least a small minority of Australians, as witnessed by the existence of the appalling party that Pauline Hanson and her supporters call One Nation.

Or, as I prefer to think of the thing, One Notion, given that its sole policy and preoccupation appears to be the winning of a share of political power by promoting fears of ‘threats’ to Australia allegedly posed by the nation’s admitting and failing to assimilate ‘too many’ non-European, non-Christian immigrants and refugees.

In other words, it’s the same fear campaign that’s being waged around the world by right-wing, or in other words wrong-wing, parties and pressure groups like those headed by the likes of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump in the US.

Trump being, by dint of his pre-eminence as the President of the world’s richest, most culturally influential and most militarily powerful nation, by far the most dangerous of these and countless other leaders, or rather misleaders, who busily seek to seize or retain power by playing on the fears of their most racist, religionist or otherwise ignorant and insecure citizens.

And as regrettable as Trump’s exclusionary efforts are in theory, they’re even more ridiculous in fact. For example, his list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he is determined to deny entry to the US illogically doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, of which most of the 911 terrorists were citizens, or Pakistan, the country whose secret police harboured Osama bin Laden while George W Bush was busy hunting him in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, his exclusion of selected Muslims for the purported purpose of protecting US citizens from terrorism is a spectacular case of errorism, given that home-grown citizen-on-citizen terrorism disguised as the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ costs infinitely more lives than imported terrorism could imaginably do, as US deaths by gunshot total some 30,000, or eight or nine times the toll taken by the 911 atrocity, every year.

And there is as little sense behind Trump’s claims that American jobs have been ‘taken’ by other countries, in light of the fact that the US has been the most tireless promoter of so-called ‘globalisation’, or in other words, US corporations’ exploitive export of production and other facilities to other, poorer countries in the pursuit of cheaper labour, expanded markets and thus fatter profits.

However little sense fearmongering makes, though, it will persist for as long as there are mongrels prepared to resort to it, and to demonstrate that it apparently works, as in the case of Trump’s recent election, for example, and the success of so-called ‘Brexit’ case for the UK to quit the EU.

It doesn’t necessarily work for very long

But there’s also ample evidence that it doesn’t necessarily work for very long. For example, despite his virtually writing the book on fear-mongering, Mein Kampf, in which he declared that “the art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention”, Adolph Hitler only managed to sustain his projected ‘Thousand-Year Reich’ for a decade or so.

On the other hand, however, today’s ultimate example of fearmongering, the North Korean regime’s terrorising and enslavement of its people by sustaining the pretense that it is still fighting a war that it lost over 60 years ago, continues to work after a fashion, though arguably only with China’s assistance.

And Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (National Front) has sustained itself in uninterrupted power since 1957 by apparently taking a leaf out of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) and literally putting the fear of God into the majority of its subjects by pretending to ‘struggle’ to save not only their religion but also their race and royalty from attack by alleged enemies.

Enemies primarily including ‘the Jews’, George Soros and ‘The West’ in general, according to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his 22 democracy-crippling, rule-of-law-destroying and kleptocracy-creating years in office.

And now, with Najib Abdul Razak desperately defending his even more disastrous premiership, he and his BN accomplices are busy mongering even more frightful fears.

Borrowing or rather stealing Donald Trump’s concept of the spectre of ‘fake news’ to attempt to discredit inconvenient or incriminating truths about them and their crimes; fomenting or at least magnifying a fake ‘conflict’ against an allegedly hostile North Korea to foster faux-patriotism; and just for good measure, inventing untold other, unspecified ‘enemies’ to further terrify the timorous.

Image result for Najib Razak the Fearmonger

Playing with Imagined Malay Fears

According to BN’s own ‘fake news’ agency, Bernama, Najib recently “reminded the people regarding crucial matters which could destroy the country including being the country’s covert enemies or conspiring with the country’s enemies”, then continued with a litany of alleged lies and further confusion in the same vein.

Thus signifying that he’s absolutely terrified that someday a majority of Malaysians will finally find the courage to face the non-existent fears that have kept them in thrall to BN all these years, and throw these fear-mongers out on their ears.

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move


March 25, 2017

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move ?

Journalists from Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper have unearthed a startling connection between the snooping private investigator, Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who conducted a bizarre seminar on 1MDB at Geneva University and Malaysia’s governing Barisan National party

Image result for Najib Razak and J Lo

The newspaper has in the process identified concerns that individuals closely connected to Barisan National are preparing to employ the latest highly controversial (and expensive) ‘Big Data’ tactics to swing voters at the next election.

Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who was recently suspended from his position at the University following an expose by Sarawak Report, is the Swiss agent for SLC (otherwise known as Cambridge Analytica).

SLC specialises in collecting a mass of data, particularly about individuals in key marginal consituencies, in order to seek to deliberately influence their voting patterns. The company is credited with having swung BERXIT in the UK and the Donald Trump win in the US.

Le Temps points out that SLC has now opened an office in KL headed by one of BN’s established public relations figures, Azrin Zizal, who has made no secret in public that his messaging to voters is to stick with the “safe” and “tried and tested” BN, rather risk than an ‘uncertain future’ with the opposition.

READ: SARAWAK REPORT:

http://www.sarawakreport.org/2017/03/latest-on-genevas-1mdb-snooper-raises-fears-that-najib-is-employing-big-data-tactics-to-try-swing-ge14/

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14


March 17, 2017

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14

by Saleena Saleem

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/17/malaysias-new-but-not-fresh-opposition-party/

Image result for Mahathir's Challenge

Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the Good Old Days when the former was heir apparent and Deputy Prime Minister. Today Anwar is languishing in Jail

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th general election, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The general election comes after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have left and regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as Chairman, and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin as President, Bersatu will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

Image result for Mahathir's Challenge

Strange brew of Malaysian politicians chasing the rainbow

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and Muhyiddin, would lead a massive break-away faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest, did not materialise.

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party — for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to Najib’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy.

Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for — he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s, although Mahathir’s camp claims the two are not comparable.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues leading eventually to its collapse. Two examples are the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014 and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment).

Image result for Mahathir's New Party

Good Luck to all Chief Sitting Bulls led by Chief Maha Bull of Kubang Pasu

The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

The opposition’s current narrative of ‘Save Malaysia from Najib’, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived ‘Save Malaysia’ movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections.

When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Nevertheless, although Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members, it is a new political party with the potential to grow in strength if it can sustain itself beyond its immediate challenges. No doubt Bersatu is a potential spoiler for UMNO.

Addressing public perception issues and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may increasingly require the introduction of a younger generation of politicians. With the senior generation playing the role of mentors, this new generation could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

Saleena Saleem is an Associate Research Fellow at Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This commentary was originally jointly published in Policy Forum and New Mandala.

 

The Look of a Winner: Mahathir-led BERSATU?


March 2, 2017

The Look of a Winner: Mahathir-led BERSATU?

by Saleena Saleem

https://www.policyforum.net/look-winner/

Image result for Bersatu's Mahathir

Malaysia’s new opposition party, Bersatu, needs to change public perceptions to win support at the next election, Saleena Saleem writes.

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th General Elections, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The elections come after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations levelled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Bersatu, led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, would lead a massive breakaway faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest did not materialise.

Image result for Najib RazakMalaysia’s Love Story–Rendezvous in Port Dickson

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within party ranks for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party – for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to the PM’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of dishonesty and hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy. Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for – he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition political coalition, Pakatan Rakyat saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues – for example, the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014, and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment) – that eventually led to its collapse. The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

Furthermore, the opposition’s current narrative on “Save Malaysia from Najib”, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived “Save Malaysia” movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections. When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Although a new political party, Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members. Addressing public perception challenges and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may paradoxically require less of a reliance on its aging political giants. Instead, an effort to introduce younger politicians could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

This article is published in collaboration with New Mandala, the premier website for analysis on Southeast Asia’s politics and societies.

Populism is on the rise but the Center can hold in Europe


February 28, 2017

Populism is on the rise but the Center can hold in  Europe

Image result for French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron

The Next French President Emmanuel Macron–The charismatic Emmanuel Macron

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dont-despair-the-center-can-still-win-in-europe/2017/02/23/8ac10bfc-fa0f-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html?utm_term=.e154720eeb7a

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@www.thewashingtonpost.com

By now it is settled wisdom that we are witnessing the rise of radical forces on the left and right around the globe. Populists of both varieties, who share a disdain for globalization, are energized, certain that the future is going their way. But the center is rising again, even in the heart of the old world.

Consider Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old former Rothschild banker who is the odds-on favorite to become France’s next President. Polls indicate that the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, is leading the field in the first round with about 25 percent of the vote. But in the second round, which pits only the two front-runners against one another, Macron is projected to beat her handily. Keep in mind that Macron is emphatically in favor of free markets, globalization, the European Union and the transatlantic alliance — and yet he is surging in a country often defined by its strong labor unions, skepticism of capitalism and distrust of the United States.

Image result for marine le pen

Far right Marine Le Pen– A nightmare for France and Europe

Why? Because Macron is, above all, an outsider, a reformer and a charismatic politician, and these qualities appear to be far more important than an ideological checklist. Social science studies have shown persuasively that people connect to candidates on a gut level and then rationalize that connection by agreeing with their policy proposals. There was little difference between the ideologies of Bill and Hillary Clinton. But voters in Middle America felt, at an emotional level, that Bill “got them,” and never felt that way about Hillary.

Image result for Populism on the rise

Europeans and Americans sense a stagnation in the economics and politics of the West. They are frustrated with business as usual and see the established order as corrupt, paralyzed and out of touch. Macron’s campaign is working because it is brimming with energy. His new party is called On the Move! ; his campaign book is titled “Revolution.”

“Macron is, in some sense, the handsome brother of Marine Le Pen,” says Columbia University scholar Mark Lilla. “Both fill a vacuum created by the collapse of the major parties. All over Europe, the main political parties represent old cleavages between the church and secularism, capital and labor. Macron and his movement are new. He represents start-ups, the young, tolerance, flexibility and, above all, hope.”

We are living through a sea change in politics and watching an outbreak of populism. But this doesn’t mean that there are no other forces and sentiments at work. The world is increasingly connected, diverse and tolerant, and hundreds of millions of people in the West, especially young people, celebrate that reality. Macron champions these ideals, even as he appeals to others who are more nervous about the changing world.

Macron is not an isolated phenomenon. Consider Germany, where much has been made of Angela Merkel’s sagging poll numbers. But Merkel has been in power for more than a decade, at which point almost no Western leader has been able to maintain enthusiastic support. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Helmut Kohl all watched their approval ratings spiral down around the 10-year mark. And Merkel’s greatest competition comes from Martin Schulz, a left-of-center former bookseller who is even more pro-European, cosmopolitan and globalist.

“The political order is messy right now,” Lilla says. “It will eventually sort itself out around the new cleavage — people comfortable with globalization and those opposed to it.” But for those of us at the center, who do see globalization as a positive force, we will need to understand the cultural dislocation caused by the large-scale immigration of recent decades.

The center can win. Europe is not inexorably heading down a path of right-wing nationalism that abandons the European Union, economic integration, the Atlantic alliance and Western values. But much depends on the United States, the country that created the strategic and ideological conception of the West. A senior European leader who attended the Munich Security Conference last week noted that, despite some reassuring words from senior American officials, “many of us are convinced that the White House is trying to elect Le Pen in France and defeat Merkel in Germany.” And there is heady talk by White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon about weakening the European Union and destroying the established order.

Image result for fareed zakariaFareed Zakaria with the Enfant Terrible of US Foreign Policy Dr. Henry Kissinger

If the United States encourages the destruction of core Western institutions and ideals, then the West might well unravel. But this would not be one of those stories of civilizational decline in the face of external threats. It would be a self-inflicted wound — one that might be fatal.

To Donald J. Trump, Politicians and their lot around the world, please take Cornel West’s advice to heart or face rejection, humiliation and retribution. Enough is Enough. So lead with compassion and integrity.–Din Merican

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people.
You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

Image result for Cornel WestCornel West,

American Philosopher, Political Activist, Social Critic

 

Ahok wins Round One of Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Elections–Good News


February 24, 2017

Ahok wins Round One of Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Elections–Good News

by Charlotte Setijadi

Image result for jakarta governor ahok

Incumbent Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok) is a dynamic Governor of Jakarta

Unofficial results of the Jakarta gubernatorial election last week show that embattled incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok) has won with 43 per cent of the votes.

However, since Purnama and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat failed to secure the 50 per cent threshold needed for an outright victory, the election will go to a run-off scheduled for April 19.

They will go head to head against former Education Minister Anies Baswedan and running mate Sandiaga Uno, who came a close second with 40 per cent of the votes.

Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son Agus Yudhoyono and running mate Sylviana Murni are out of the second-round race after coming last with less than 18 per cent of the votes.

Image result for jakarta governor ahok

The first-round election result came after months of controversy and civil unrest following allegations of blasphemy against Purnama for allegedly insulting the Quran. The case centred on an edited video showing him telling a small crowd in Jakarta’s Thousand Islands Regency not to be “fooled” by those who use Al Maidah verse 51 of the Quran to convince Muslims that it is a sin to vote for a non-Muslim leader.

Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, has pleaded his innocence and apologised. But the ongoing blasphemy trial has clearly hurt his campaign.

Before the blasphemy allegations, Purnama’s electability rating was at over 50 per cent, indicating that a first-round victory was not only possible, but likely.

His opponent Baswedan was a known political figure, but he was a newcomer to Jakarta politics, and many voters distrusted him for quickly switching political camps to Prabowo Subianto’s coalition after he was sacked from the Education Ministry in President Joko Widodo’s last Cabinet reshuffle. Similarly, Agus Yudhoyono was a completely new political figure and largely seen as a puppet for his ambitious father’s political manoeuvres.

While Purnama’s ethnicity and religion had always brought about protests from radical Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), the straight-talking and brash governor consistently achieved more than 70 per cent in performance satisfaction ratings with programmes such as the JakartaT project and swift slum evictions around the city’s clogged-up river banks.

Image result for jakarta governor ahok and President jokowi

Furthermore, with President Widodo’s PDI-P party behind him (in coalition with Golkar, National Democrat and Hanura parties), Purnama had the strongest party mechanism support, not to mention the many people in Jakarta who supported him through grassroots channels.

This was why Purnama’s Al-Maidah comment was a gift for the Islamist factions and for his political opponents, as well as those of his close ally Widodo.

Purnama’s electability ratings plummeted to almost 20 per cent at their worst in early November 2016. The blasphemy issue divided Jakarta, and race and religion dominated public discourse during the election campaign.

Suddenly, a vote for Purnama was a vote against Islam, and the far-right Islamist factions were quick to garner anti-Ahok sentiments. Because of this case, previously marginal radical Muslim vigilante groups such as the FPI became political players to be reckoned with.

Indonesian Police Chief Tito Karnavian and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto had to meet FPI leader Rizieq Shihab to urge calm following the successful mass mobilisation of anti-Ahok Muslim protesters.

While his opponents never directly condemned Purnama for blasphemy, they certainly benefited from the Islamist sentiments.

Throughout the campaign, both Baswedan and Yudhoyono emphasised their Muslim identities and made shows of Islamic piety to appeal to Muslim voters. Baswedan even went as far as meeting the FPI in a move that shocked those who had seen him as a moderate Muslim politician.

Furthermore, rising anti-Chinese sentiments alleging various Chinese economic and political conspiracies behind Purnama and the President have created legitimate worries among Chinese Indonesians traumatised by past anti-Chinese attacks during times of political instability.

Evidently, the strategy of stirring up race and religious issues had worked.

Despite having a high performance satisfaction rating as governor, Purnama did not win outright and the battle will go into a second and final round. This was a huge blow for his camp as an Ahok victory in the second round will be even more difficult.

So, what can we expect next?

Now that there is more at stake with just two contenders, the political gloves are off and we can expect amplified religious and racial campaigning in the second round. The on-going blasphemy trial will continue to put the case in the spotlight and cast doubts about Purnama’s future.

The question now is whom Yudhoyono’s supporters will back in the second round. Assuming that the majority of Yudhoyono’s 18 per cent of votes came from Muslim voters who had refused to vote for Purnama, the majority will presumably go towards Baswedan as the other Muslim candidate.

However, it is also not all doom and gloom for Purnama. The very fact that he was able to bounce back and secure a first-round election victory despite the blasphemy case and concerted political attacks show that many in Muslim-majority Jakarta were able to see past race and religious issues in their voting decision.

Image result for jakarta governor ahok and President jokowi

The second round of the election will be a test of just how mature and open-minded Jakarta voters really are. Purnama and his campaign team must convince moderate Muslim swing voters to focus on his policy achievements and to stand together against the demands of hardline Islamists.

Looking further afield, the political rhetoric, power play and result of the Jakarta gubernatorial election will have major implications for the 2019 presidential polls.

An Ahok defeat will be a major blow for Widodo and his PDI-P party, as not having Purnama as an ally at the leadership of the capital city would weaken the president’s hold on power.

More importantly, it would show that his opponents’ strategy of using race and religious issues as a political tool to destabilise and delegitimise Widodo’s government has worked.

This would in turn set a dangerous precedent in the lead-up to the 2019 presidential election and for the future of Indonesian plural society more generally. — TODAY

* Charlotte Setijadi is visiting fellow at the Indonesia Studies Programme, Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.