Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Victorious Idul Fitri and prevailing democracy

The Jakarta Post, opinion
July 26, 2014

Muslims in Indonesia and beyond will celebrate the happy day of Idul Fitri after a month of fasting during Ramadhan.

According to Islamic theology and belief, Idul Fitri is a victorious day, after restraining from food and drink during the day and praying to God at night.

In order to control both desire and appetite, the Almighty commands Muslims to feel the suffering of hunger and thirst.

This year’s Idul Fitri is special for Indonesians, who are now still in celebratory mood after the “fiesta of democracy”, in which their voices were heard and counted to determine the future of the nation. What makes this year’s election so special is the fact that president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the former mayor of Surakarta, Central Java, and current governor of Jakarta, symbolizes the true spirit of reform.

While previous presidents after Soeharto’s fall were closely tied in one way or another to the New Order’s social and political elite, Jokowi is a completely new and fresh proposition.

Jokowi won public sympathy and support in the election because he had neither served in the New Order regime nor opposed it. His political career and popularity in Indonesians’ eyes have been built through local leadership in both Surakarta and Jakarta during the reform era.

Jokowi, unlike his election rival Prabowo Subianto, did not serve under Soeharto, nor was he — unlike BJ Habibie and current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — raised under Soeharto’s political mentorship.

And unlike Amien Rais and former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, Jokowi never directly confronted Soeharto.

The Indonesian people’s choice of Jokowi truly marks a dividing line between the New Order era and the reform era.

During this year’s victorious Idul Fitri, Indonesians can celebrate the real separation of the reform era’s political leadership from the New Order.

As hard as the month’s fasting has been, during the tumultuous electoral campaign, Indonesians were confronted with so many temptations such as smear campaigns, public lies, the spread of hatred, political manipulation, fake polling and surveys, and vote-buying and vote-rigging, all of which were at the expense of social cohesion and could have cost the nation its unity.

However, Indonesia has passed the test. Democracy is hard and expensive but we are making it. Indonesia can now pride itself on being the most democratic country in the Muslim world.

Unlike Middle Eastern countries, which are either ruled by authoritarian kings or divided by civil wars, Indonesia can tolerate the differences among political choices — the essence of democracy.

To illustrate this point, in order to prevent Islamism from controlling politics, Egypt removed Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood government through people power and military force.

Libya has a long way to go following Moammar Qaddafi’s tragic end. Syria is still in a civil war. Tunisia has plenty of tough work ahead. Turkey, the only Muslim country comparable to Indonesia in terms of its “secularization”, is increasingly in the grip of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), whereas the secular camp is fighting back.

Malaysia, on the other hand, differs from Indonesia at two respects, namely in terms of its relative lack of population heterogeneity and its different democratic path.

Indonesia has demonstrated that the freedom following the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime can guarantee fair local and national elections.

During the campaign season that precedes elections, people actively and openly share their political opinions without fear of intimidation.

However, the Idul Fitri euphoria in the aftermath of the presidential election should not drown us. As Jokowi said: “Farmers should return to the paddy fields, fishermen to the sea and others to their offices.” Neither Idul Fitri nor the election victory is the final goal.

The political promises must be fulfilled under the watchful eye of the voters.

Those who voted, whether for or against Jokowi and his running mate Jusuf Kalla, will be watching — along with the whole world — for the delivery of the new government’s programs.

The writer is a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta, and currently a visiting scholar at the Religion and Society Research Center, the University of Western Sydney, Australia.


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