Identity politics may reemerge during the 2019 presidential election. (Antara Photo/Yulius Satria Wijaya)

Identity Politics Will Be Back for 2019 Election, Researchers Warn


NOVEMBER 17, 2017

Jakarta. Identity politics, utilizing ethnic and religious sentiments by politicians to solidify their own political bases, is expected to reemerge during the 2019 presidential election, researchers warn.

Identity politics played a major role in the 2017 gubernatorial election in Jakarta, during which members of hardline Muslim organizations mobilized masses against Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama. The ethnic Chinese and Christian former governor, who lost to Anies Baswedan, is serving a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy, after a controversial trial that started during the electoral campaign.

"Last year's polarizing campaigning will return," Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Sri Yanuarti said during the "Threats of Identity Conflict in 2019" seminar in Jakarta on Wednesday (15/11).

According to Sri, next year's elections in 171 regions will show the extent to which religion and ethnicity-based campaigning may reappear and what threats it constitutes for the 2019 legislative and presidential election.

She said that while the legislative election is unlikely to see identity-related competition, as too many regions and politicians will participate in it, the presidential election, especially if it involves only two candidates, may assume the recent polarizing Jakarta style.

"Looking at the recent political events … Indonesia is vulnerable and provocations related to ethnicity or religion can be easily utilized for political ends," Sri said.

According to her, tightening the rules for electoral campaigning, stricter law enforcement and disqualifying from the process those parties that play identity politics, may act as a deterrent and prevent the emergence of interreligious tensions. Elections may also be supported by platforms to lodge complaints against the use of ethnic or religious sentiments.

Renowned Muslim scholar Komaruddin Hidayat said Indonesia will lose in the global economic competition if politicians do not renounce identity politics.

"Investors will not invest in Indonesia if we can't guarantee political security … and we will lose in the global competition," he said, adding that democracy will not mature without a sound economy, so everyone has to set aside their private interests and join in making Indonesia a better country and a safer place for investment.