Jakarta. December 2 is a historic date for opponents of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, because on this day exactly two years ago, they successfully mobilized thousands of Islamic fundamentalists and religious conservatives in the streets of Central Jakarta to demand the arrest of then-Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama on blasphemy charges.
Dogged by the allegations and continuous protests by Islamists, Ahok, who was endorsed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) – which also backs President Jokowi – lost his bid for re-election on April 19, 2017 to Anies Baswedan, who was backed by Prabowo Subianto, the leader of the opposition Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
Three weeks later, the North Jakarta District Court handed down an unexpectedly harsh sentence, jailing the ethnic Chinese Christian governor for two years for insulting Islam. His crime: referencing a Koranic verse during a campaign speech the year before.
Since the Dec. 2, 2016 rally, the three little numbers, 212, have become symbolic with the anti-government opposition.
Opposition SupportDuring Sunday's "212 alumni reunion" at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta, Prabowo, accompanied by close aide, House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon, People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Zulkifli Hasan, MPR Deputy Speaker Hidayat Nur Wahid and incumbent Governor Anies, along with several prominent members of the opposition, appeared in front of the crowd that gathered to commemorate the historic event.
"I won't speak long, because as you all know ... as a presidential candidate, I must obey and follow all the regulations. I cannot talk politics, I cannot do any campaigning, yet. So, I just want to thank the organizers for inviting me today," Prabowo told the crowd.
The former military general, who entered politics 14 years ago when he competed for Golkar Party's presidential nomination, and who made two further attempts at ascending to the country's highest political office, said: "Our friends from other religions, other ethnicities and races are participating in today's commemoration. We are proud, because Islam in Indonesia is Islam, which unites all. We will maintain peace for everyone."
OversightRahmat Bagja, a member of the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), earlier warned that they would monitor and take "serious action" if there was any political campaigning during Sunday's rally.
This came after the General Elections Commission (KPU) declared Monas off limits for political activities.
Rizieq Calls HomeDespite living in exile in Saudi Arabia, Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), meanwhile made sure not to miss out on the opportunity to address his followers. In a live-streamed video call, he called on them to maintain the unity of the Republic of Indonesia.
"Take good care of our country, guard Islam and respect other religions. There should be no hateful comments [against other religions]," he said.
Rizieq also called on the country's law enforcement agencies to refrain from going after members of religious movements.
The firebrand cleric has been a fugitive for more than a year after the Jakarta Police named him a suspect in a pornography case, which many believe was politically motivated. However, the authorities reportedly dropped the case in July, citing a lack of evidence.
Exploiting Religious SentimentSome analysts believe the Dec. 2, 2016 protest rally, considered the largest demonstration during Jokowi's term as president, had led to a rise in political intolerance in Indonesia.
"In a democratic society, anyone in the opposition, either parties that have lost an election or non-parties, can launch political movements. That's legitimate. So, to answer the question of whether the '212 reunion' is considered a political movement by the opposition: Automatically it is," Boni Hargens, director of the Indonesian Voters Institute (LPI), said on Saturday.
"Just pay attention to three aspects of this movement: the historical aspect, timing and the discourse or narrative it seeks to promote," he said during a discussion titled, "The 212 Reunion, a Moral Movement or Political?"
Boni, who is also a political science lecturer at the University of Indonesia, explained that the 212 movement started off as a moral campaign by Muslims to defend their religion, which they perceived to be under threat, but that this movement was effectively hijacked by a political elite to defeat the incumbent, who at the time, was leading in terms of popularity.
"This became a political movement that exploits religious sentiment," Boni said.
The Dec. 2, 2016 rally was preceded by a violent protest on Nov. 4, organized by several hardline Islamic organizations, including the FPI, and supported by celebrities, such as the singers Ahmad Dhani and Rhoma Irama.
And while members of the country's two biggest Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, were not actively encouraged to attend the November protest, they were not prohibited from doing so either. The government did at the time attempt to contain the spread of hateful religious sentiment online by blocking access to websites affiliated with groups involved in planning the protests.
But this did little to stop what had started as a peaceful march between the Istiqlal Mosque and the Presidential Palace in Central Jakarta from turning violent when the authorities tried to disperse the protesters at the end of the time allocated for the protest. One person died and hundreds of protesters and dozens of police officers were injured in the ensuing violence.
Lost Identity, Weakening SupportFast forward nearly two years and the 212 movement attempted to solidify its political and economic gains with the founding of the Shariah Party, which failed screening by the KPU, the establishment of a chain of minimarts known as 212Mart, and a shariah-compliant cooperative, Koperasi Syariah 212.
The mastermind behind the 212 movement, the National Movement to Defend the Indonesian Ulema Council's Fatwa (GNPF-MUI), which started organizing demonstrations against Ahok in October 2016, sought to trademark the term "212" as part of a mission to promote an Islamic economy. Simply put, the organization sought to monetize, through Koperasi Syariah 212 and 212Mart, what was at the time a protest movement.
According to Boni of the LPI, efforts to build a brand identity on those three little numbers failed as many supporters returned to their normal routines after handing Anies a victory over Ahok.
Ironically, the man who coined the term 212 is now persona non grata in GNPF-Ulama, as the organization is now known. It was Kapitra Ampera, a former lawyer for FPI leader Rizieq, who recently betrayed the opposition by joining the ruling PDI-P. He is no longer welcome at any GNPF Ulama gatherings.
Jokowi, who is a popular Islamic moderate, has meanwhile chosen 75-year-old Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate in next year's presidential election, in an apparent attempt to neutralize an onslaught by fringe groups of Islamic hardliners, which have been gaining ground in recent years. Ma'ruf is backed by the more liberal Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization.
Still, regarding the timing, Boni said supporters of the 212 movement are becoming more active ahead of the April 2019 legislative and presidential elections. He added that it is no longer based purely on moral and religious sentiments, but a confirmed political movement.
"A political contract, or an integrity pact between GNPF Ulama and Prabowo and Sandi is proof that movements cloaked in religion have now entered the political arena," he said, referring to Prabowo's running mate, Sandiaga Uno.
"The 212 movement, which has been active since 2016, is likely to remain alive and kicking until the 2019 elections ... to defeat the incumbent, President Jokowi," he added.
Fadli Zon posted a comment on his official Twitter account exaggerating the number of participants in Sunday's event.
"Millions of participants in #ReuniAkbar212 [the great reunion] have filled Monas and surrounding areas this morning. Amazing," he tweeted.
Boni said the 212 movement is actively spreading propaganda against the current administration on social media platforms and in the comment sections of mainstream media outlets.
"The 212 has become a movement by the political opposition in its quest for power. They seek to bring the administration of President Jokowi to an end in the 2019 elections. In other words, the 'reunion' is purely a movement by the opposition against the current administration," he said.