Like It Not, but the Nation Is Divided

President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo and Ma'ruf Amin, right, his running mate in the 2019 election. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)

By : Yanto Soegiarto | on 3:17 PM September 24, 2018
Category : Opinion, Editorial

The nomination of Ma'ruf Amin as President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's running mate in next year's election has caught the nation by surprise. There were mixed reactions, with some wondering why the good president would choose an elderly Muslim scholar as his running mate. It is true that the Republic of Indonesia was established on the pillars of Islam and nationalism, but that was in the early days, during the formation of the state, when Muslims and nationalists were united in their struggle against colonialism.

Today, 73 years later, Indonesia is facing what its people fear most – rising radicalism and growing religious intolerance. Many now see the nation being divided into two camps, one pushing for the adoption of hardline values – some even desiring the establishment of a caliphate under the pretext that the state does not adequately accommodate the aspirations of the Muslim majority – while the other camp is tirelessly working to preserve the official state ideology Pancasila, uphold the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or Unity in Diversity, and improve the economy and the people's welfare.

President Jokowi would not have picked Ma'ruf without good reason. He cannot allow our nation to be divided. Under the current regime, millions of Indonesians, even in remote areas, enjoy health care, education and better living standards. Connectivity is being improved in rural areas and welfare programs are continuously implemented.

The septuagenarian is a former chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) who, with his capacity and influence, will be able to dampen enthusiasm for hardline policies. After all, he also represents Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world's largest Muslim organization. He is expected to command respect among the country's various Islamic organizations to promote pragmatism that complements democracy.

Although it is still difficult to digest and understand why Ma'ruf was nominated, given the fact that he is said to have been involved in the bid to bring down then-Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy. Meanwhile, the question of intolerance and injustice is still lingering, due to the most recent case involving Meiliana, a Buddhist woman of Chinese descent who was jailed in North Sumatra for blasphemy after complaining about the volume of a nearby mosque's loudspeakers. Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who heads the Indonesian Mosque Council, has said her complaint was not a criminal offense, while the NU has also denounced the verdict.

On the economic front, what is also being questioned is Ma'ruf's idea of adding a new "stream" to the economy, which he claims is "too controlled" by business conglomerates. If it were not for these conglomerates, who could have provided millions of jobs, encouraged investment and created businesses in the country? Shariah banking has existed in the country for some time, yet conventional banks still dominate and have even risen to a higher level with the adoption of financial technology.

Pundits agree that Jokowi's decision to choose Ma'ruf is probably right. Ma'ruf is needed. There is too much at stake. The nation must be united and stability must be maintained at all costs to preserve the economy.

It is ultimately difficult for businesses to grow if religious intolerance persists. Not mentioning the current crisis involving the rupiah's depreciation. At nearly 15,000 to the US dollar, it would be difficult to afford imports, including the raw materials for basic needs such as tempe – made from soybeans – and instant noodles, or Indomie – made from wheat. Not to mention the difficulties to promote Indonesian exports affected by US President Donald Trump's ruthless policy of slapping high tariffs on imports from many countries.

Other countries are also suffering due to weakening currencies. The recent 40 percent decline of the Turkish lira against the dollar is a reminder that Indonesia should remain cautious. If Turkey had not been bailed out by close ally Qatar, which pledged $15 billion in direct investment, and if Turks did not heed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's call to convert their dollars to lira, the country would have suffered even more.

Talk about weakening currencies and other economic issues will surely surface when Indonesia hosts the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Oct. 8-14. Around 1,500 delegates from 189 countries are set to attend. Hopefully, Indonesia will be successful in its Bali Initiative, which is expected to result from the meeting and become a reference for delegates. All eyes will be on Indonesia.

Unity in diversity and stability must be preserved. Religious intolerance must be eliminated. It is an obstacle to democracy, economic development and business. Indonesia must play it right if it wants to advance and prosper.

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