Jakarta’s New Governor Doubles Down on Identity

Jakarta’s new governor, Anies Baswedan, was inaugurated in a large and highly publicized ceremony last night. After a highly racially and religiously charged gubernatorial campaign that saw Anies defeat incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama—a Chinese Christian since imprisoned on charges of blasphemy—many Indonesians had hoped for a period of calm. Anies might have contributed to that by delivering a moderately religious but clearly nationalist and inclusivist inauguration address in his first speech as governor.

This is not what he delivered. Instead, Anies has doubled down on the identitarian religious rhetoric that sustained his campaign and propelled him into office. One particular line from his speech as attracted particular attention among Indonesia’s liberals, progressives, and religious and ethnic minorities:

Jakarta juga memiliki makna pentingnya dalam kehidupan berbangsa. Di kota ini, tekad satu tanah air, satu bangsa dan satu bahasa persatuan ditegakkan oleh para pemuda. Di kota ini pula bendera pusaka dikibartinggikan, tekad menjadi bangsa yang merdeka dan berdaulat diproklamirkan ke seluruh dunia. Jakarta adalah satu dari sedikit tempat di Indonesia yang merasakan hadirnya penjajah dalam kehidupan sehari-hari selama berabad-abad lamanya. Rakyat pribumi ditindas dan dikalahkan oleh kolonialisme. Kini telah merdeka, saatnya kita jadi tuan rumah di negeri sendiri.

Jakarta also has a special place in our national life. It was in this city that the youth proclaimed “one country, one nation, one language.” It was in this city that the flag of our heritage was raised, in which our will to become a free and sovereign nation was proclaimed to the whole world. Jakarta is one of a few places in Indonesia that for centuries felt the everyday consequences of the colonial presence. The indigenous people have been oppressed and defeated by colonialism. Today we are free, and it is time for us to become the heads of our own country.

There are three important observations from this excerpt.

  1. Even after nearly seventy years of independence, colonial legacies matter. Anies is able to compose a powerful political message that invokes the socioeconomic effects of colonialism. Anies (or his speechwriters) believe that this is message that still resonates. In my view, he is right.
  2. This is a presidential speech, not a gubernatorial one. The looks exactly like the speech of a candidate preparing himself for a 2019 presidential run, placing Jakarta at the center of national politics and staking a claim for himself as a national politician. Elsewhere in the speech he invokes folksy sayings from ethnic groups around the archipelago (Acehnese, Batak, Banjar, Madurese, Minahasa, Minang), figuratively pushing a pin in each of Indonesia’s regions and saying “I am speaking to you too.”
  3. Every Indonesian who hears this speech will understand that it is targeting ethnic Chinese Indonesians. Specifically, it is associating Chinese Indonesians with the long colonial period and its legacies on everyday politics. Pribumi is a term that connotes indigeneity, but specifically, it identifies those citizens of Indonesia who are viewed to be descended from foreign populations (Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Europeans, and others). Anies appears to have conveniently forgot that he himself is of Hadrami descent. Alternatively, he might not have forgotten at all, but rather he knows that Indonesia’s wealthy Arab Indonesian elite faces none of the discrimination that Chinese Indonesians face in places like Jakarta. (I have written about this here [PDF].)

The visual imagery surrounding Anies’s installation reflects similar kinds of politics. One notable banner that has generated much discussion appears below:

Source: Tagar News

The full banner reads Terpilihnya Anies – Sandi adalah Simbol Kebangkitan Pribumi Muslim, or “the election of Anies-Sandi is a symbol of the awakening of the indigenous Muslims.”

The long term consequences of this for Jakarta and Indonesian politics are hard to predict. However, anyone hoping that Anies would revert to the moderate Islamic persona that he had cultivated prior to his gubernatorial campaign must now be disappointed. His lickspittles might argue that his use of non-Muslim religious language at the beginning and end of his speech signals his understanding that Jakarta (like Indonesia) is a religiously diverse city. But this view ignores the reality of Anies’s inauguration: the pribumi/non-pribumi cleavage is alive and well in Indonesian politics, and a leading politician is betting that exploiting this cleavage is good politics.

Comments 3

  1. Pingback: New Records of Sino-Indonesian Relations, 1965-66

  2. yggdaimao666 October 29, 2017

    The old governor force people to pay high taxes. So even the Chinese chose a Muslim representative because they are full of wisdom.

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