The political rhetoric on display at the 212 Reunion rally held earlier this month in Indonesia put it in violation of campaign laws. But there will likely be no repercussions.
On Sunday, 2nd December 2018, a major rally billed as “212 Reunion” took place in central Jakarta. The event was something of a reunion for those who participated in the 2016 demonstration against the then-Jakarta governor, Basuki Cahaya Purnama, known as Ahok.
In 2016, the 212 movement demanded the prosecution of Ahok for blasphemy charges. It was ultimately successful in its objectives as Ahok was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.
Although the organisers insist that there was no political agenda behind the event in early December, there were several aspects of the rally that suggest it was political in nature. This puts it afoul of election campaign laws.
The battle cry against Jokowi and his government loomed large during the rally
Several prominent leaders from the Indonesian political opposition, including presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, founder of the National Mandate Party (PAN) party, Amien Rais, and House of Representatives speaker, Fadli Zon, attended the event.
In his brief appearance, Prabowo thanked the committee for inviting him amid chants of “2019 Ganti President” (2019 Change the President), from the throng in attendance.
The firebrand cleric Habib Rizieq Shihab of the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) also reminded his supporters that it is forbidden for Muslims to vote for a president and parties that support the blasphemer (Ahok famously received Widodo’s endorsement in the 2017 gubernatorial election).
Many from Jokowi’s camp believe that the opposition has hijacked the event for political purposes. Bawaslu (Election Supervisory Agency) has launched an investigation to see if it violated campaign rules.
Bawaslu’s concerns lie in the speech made by Habib Rizieq. Bawaslu explained that If Habib Rizieq is part of the Prabowo campaign team, then he was not permitted to give that speech at the reunion.
FPI leader, Habib Rizieq’s call for Muslims to go against those who support the blasphemer and vote for a candidate backed by the counsel of the Ulema, is indirectly calling participants to vote for Prabowo Subianto.
According to Indonesian General Election regulations, a campaign rally with more than 3,000 participants can only be held on the period of between March 24 and April 13. The Jakarta police and the National Police put the rally’s attendance at between 40,000 and 100,000.
Given the political rhetoric on display from Rizieq, the rally was a thinly-veiled campaign rally and in breach of Indonesian election law.
But that does not mean there will be lasting repercussions
The deputy chairman of Jokowi’s national campaign team, Arnul Sani explained that “even though there were elements of political campaign in 212 reunion, our team will not report it to Bawaslu”, he added that the reason for this was to prevent the country’s political conditions from deteriorating.
However, a more likely reason for pulling the Subianto campaign up on the rally is that it would be near impossible for Bawaslu to prove the rally violated the letter of the law.
The country’s definition of campaign and campaign team is too vague. As Rizieq is not explicitly employed by the Prabowo campaign, despite sharing a platform with Prabowo, and addressing his supporters directly with a political agenda, the chance of the investigation concluding a campaign violation took place is slim.
The political opposition is aware of this legal grey area and it has often used it to their advantage in mobilising the public ahead of the campaign season.
Fortunately, the reunion will not have a significant impact on the electorate
NasDem party secretary-general, Johnny G. Plate believes that “there could be an electoral impact for us, but it would not be significant.” Hendri Satrio, a political communication expert, added that the 212 movement would erode gradually. He predicted, “Prabowo will be on the rise for a while, but it will not mess Jokowi up.”
The 212 Reunion drew just a fraction of the attention the 2016 demonstration received. Its attendance was one-fifth of the size of the December 2016 rally, at best. This may be because the 2016 rally had the clearly-defined goal of prosecuting Ahok. The reunion, however, had no explicit objective.
Moreover, the initial 212 demonstration drew support from both sides of the political spectrum, with some Widodo supporters turning out to protest Ahok. But the 2018 rally was exclusively attended by those opposing Jokowi.
In the end, the 212 Grand Reunion was something of a storm in a teacup. The poor attendance figures undermined organisers’ estimates that seven or eight million Indonesians would turn out. However, this does not absolve Bawaslu of its responsibility.
As the protector of Indonesian democracy, legislators must provide Bawaslu with sufficient legal clarification on exactly what and who is covered by the General Elections law so that its powers are better defined. As Indonesia seeks to move past the identity politics that plagued the 2017 gubernatorial elections, it needs to invest in democratic institutions. The first institution on that list should Bewaslu. The 212 Reunion rally was a warning shot from Indonesia’s conservative Muslim base. Just because it missed the target, doesn’t mean it should be ignored.