Identity Politics and Ethics in the Indonesian Elections

Graphic Design: Krizia Angelina

West Java is a province widely regarded as religiously conservative and is also the nation's most populous. The race for Governor debate that took place on 14 May 2018 got more and more heated after each pair of candidates spoke. However, although the debate appeared to be intense from the start, it was actually quite conducive in general. The situation fired up at the end of the debate when each candidate was given the opportunity to deliver their campaign promises. The third pair of governor and vice governor candidates, Sudrajat and Ahmad Syaikhu, delivered provocative words and held up a white shirt that read "2018 Asyik Menang, #2019GantiPresiden” (Asyik being an combination of their names, Sudrajat-Syaikhu), which means that should they win the 2018 West Java Governor Election, they are in full support for a replacement in the 2019 presidential position. After the statement, there were various reactions from both supporters and opponents, and the debate ended in quite a chaotic manner.

The #2019GantiPresiden Movement

#2019GantiPresiden is a movement from the opponents of Joko Widodo’s (or better known as Jokowi). According to this movement, Jokowi alongside his ministers have often treated the Indonesian Islamic community unfairly and failed to manage Indonesia to be better in many terms of management in his three years of presidency. Although the movement was initially referred to as an aspiration of the people, Mardani Ali Sera was claimed to be the first one who raised the idea. Mardani is the Secretary General of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an Islamic party with a conservative, Islamic constituency. The movement actually began to be heard in public when it started to become involved in acts of intimidation and discrimination using religious jargons against Jokowi supporters and the disabled community members on a Car Free Day event on 29 April 2018

Identity Politics; A Threats or Opportunity?

The controversy incident in the West Java Governor candidate debate is not new in Indonesian politics, especially during the election period. The diversity of the Indonesian society, formed by the many varieties of cultures and religions, is often used as a campaign tool for political and party elites. Beyond the campaigns and polls, identity politics stands out as one of the most influential factors shaping the Indonesian Election outcomes. The identity politics rhetoric has become a staple in opposition campaigns against the current Indonesian President, Jokowi. Identity politics was used as a political strategy because of its efficacy in mobilizing mass sympathy in a relatively short time. The Jakarta Gubernatorial Election has proven that campaigns using identity sentiments could boost character image in a short time. Identity-based political propaganda is so powerful in grabbing the public's attention due to the fact that issues of identity are more sentimental. It seems like the elite tend to only think pragmatically about victory; seen by their tendency to create a sharp division in society, all for a win. Instead of being an important part in maintaining the course of democracy, the political elite have instead become part of its destruction.

Identity politics is a political action conducted by a group of people who have the same identity, be it religious, ethnic, or gender, to realize the interests of its members. Identity politics is also used to recruit the support of marginalized people from the majority or vice versa, says Agnes Heller in her 1990 book "Can Modernity Survive ?"That being said, identity politics can be both positive and negative. Being positive means being encouraged to acknowledge and accommodate differences, even to the degree of recognizing the predicate of a region's distinctness to another region for reasons that can be understood historically and logically. Whereas it is negative when it is used to further worsen the situation when there is a discrimination between groups, such as majority dominance over minorities. "Domination can be born from the struggle of the group, and more dangerous if it is legitimized by the state," as said by Prof.Dr.H. Bagir Manan, S.H., M.CL in his 2011 book, "Negara Hukum yang Berkeadilan: Kumpulan Pemikiran".

Occurrences such as the #2019GantiPresiden Movement is actually deemed as normal in democratic countries, considered a politically correct movement. However, #2019GantiPresiden can be seen as an inappropriate movement when used massively in the legislative or presidential election only to get the voice of people who have the same identity and rule out other interests. This movement and various identity politics issues that have been played by the political elite are now jeopardizing Indonesia’s harmony. In recent years Indonesia has been divided into several labels, the largest being conservative Muslims, moderate Muslims and minority groups. Indonesia has started to lose its identity as a pluralistic society, even more so since the #2019GantiPresiden movement raised hatred between sides.

Ironically, on the political scene, ethics is a philosophy that is rarely discussed. Ethics in politics will provide assurance that exist to improve the dignity of the people as well as the morality of the nation. In fact the understanding and practice of ethics in politics should be basic knowledge for the elite before taking action, as well as towards the using of political identity in elections. It seems as if there is no straight line that shows what is right and wrong if it has to do with winning in the political process; there are also almost no clear boundaries on what is appropriate or not. It can be said as if there is a common ideology that politics is a dirty power struggle, and the elites can do anything to get the votes, at the end of the day it is often the people who become victims of elite’s political pitting.

That being said, perhaps as Franz-Magnis Suseno once remarked, political ethics is just an academic exercise, only interestingly discussed in an academic context in college. In fact, especially at this present time, political ethics is just a lip-service. Political competition is predicated only on the problem of defeat and victory in achieving political office and power. Unethical politics has given birth to the soap opera of democracy, which only presents empty lies and promises of demagogues that clearly threaten democracy. The West Java Gubernatorial Debate ended in an embarrassing mess; a destructive and massive identity clash. If this continues to have a wide and profound effect scale on Indonesia, history proves that an identity dispute can destroy the country from within.