14 days to Indonesian elections

Cleric rapped for remarks on Indonesia's top diplomat

Members of the Committee for Alternative Politics protesting outside the General Elections Commission yesterday. They called for "golput" - meaning to abstain from voting or to invalidate one's ballot - to be made a legitimate choice for voters unhap
Members of the Committee for Alternative Politics protesting outside the General Elections Commission yesterday. They called for "golput" - meaning to abstain from voting or to invalidate one's ballot - to be made a legitimate choice for voters unhappy with the crop of political parties in the April 17 polls.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

He accuses Indonesian minister of election bias in online video, drawing warning from ministry

Self-exiled Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab has been warned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs against making further comments about Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, after he accused Indonesia's top diplomat of being less than impartial over the upcoming presidential election.

The reproach comes after Mr Rizieq said in an online video that Ms Retno had "threatened the freedom" of Indonesian missions and its diplomats during her visit to Saudi Arabia last month.

Specifically, he claimed in the four-minute clip that Ms Retno, a career diplomat with no ties to any political party, had pressured Foreign Affairs Ministry officials posted in Saudi Arabia to vote for a certain pair of presidential candidates, reported state news agency Antara yesterday.

Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said: "The video is not right... Madam Foreign Minister has always stressed to all our representatives abroad to be neutral."

The video started circulating over messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram following Ms Retno's visit to Jeddah on March 4.

Mr Muhammad Iqbal, the Foreign Affairs Ministry's director for citizen protection who accompanied Ms Retno on the trip, also came to her defence, saying: "I was beside the Minister of Foreign Affairs during the visit and there was not a single statement from the minister... regarding the support of any one of the candidates."

Mr Rizieq gained notoriety for staging one of the largest street protests in Indonesia during a divisive gubernatorial election in 2017, which was marred by racial and religious tensions and led to the ouster of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

  • Concerns over no-shows, fake news ahead of Indonesian elections

  • GOLPUT MOVEMENT

    Golput is short for golongan putih, a guerrilla movement that started as a protest against rigged elections in Indonesia during the New Order era.
    Today, the term is typically used as slang, meaning to abstain from voting or to invalidate one's ballot.
    Yesterday, about 50 members of the Committee for Alternative Politics gathered outside the General Elections Commission to advocate that golput be made a legitimate choice for voters unhappy with the current crop of political parties in the April 17 elections.
    A recent survey said about 30 per cent of respondents plan to golput. If true, this will mean the upcoming polls could see the highest proportion of no-shows at an election since the fall of Suharto in 1998.

    ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

    The spread of fake news is one key concern during the polls.
    President Joko Widodo, campaigning in Palembang in South Sumatra yesterday, posted on Instagram an image with the words "Stop Hoax".
    The Communications and Information Ministry this week said that of more than 1,200 "fake news" items detected between last August and last month, 130 were related to the presidential candidates and political parties.
    Today, Mr Joko will be in Central Java. His rival Prabowo Subianto will be campaigning in Medan, North Sumatra.

    WHAT DO SURVEYS SHOW?

    Mr Joko and his running-mate Ma'ruf Amin remain on course for an election victory, according to two surveys released yesterday.
    But one of the results shows Mr Joko's lead over Mr Prabowo fell slightly last month.
    Mr Joko has the support of 56.5 per cent of respondents, down slightly by 0.5 percentage point from February, while his opponent gained by the same margin to take 43.5 per cent, according to the latest Roy Morgan Poll.
    While the latest results show that the incumbent is still on track to be re-elected, it also confirms a previous survey by Kompas newspaper last month that showed Mr Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno gaining momentum, with the polls set to open in two weeks.

The leader of the hardline Front Pembela Islam (FPI) is currently in self-exile in Saudi Arabia after fleeing Indonesia to avoid police questioning in connection with a pornography investigation. In his latest video, the cleric also called on supporters of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno to "fight all forms of elections fraud".

The candidates are up against President Joko Widodo and his vice-presidential pick Ma'ruf Amin, who are backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), in the April 17 polls.

A similar allegation of election bias was made recently against a senior police official in West Java. Adjunct Commissioner Sulman Azis had initially claimed that his superior, Garut regency police chief Budi Satria Wiguna, ordered him to help garner votes for Mr Joko.

Commissioner Sulman later clarified that his comments were misunderstood.

Mr Joko, responding to the issue, said he has always demanded that the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) and police remain neutral in political matters.

"This has been made very clear, there is no need for me to repeat it over and over again," the President told reporters while campaigning in West Papua on Monday.

The Garut incident has rehashed old arguments of whether the law that bans active-duty TNI and police personnel from voting and being involved in politics should be amended.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2019, with the headline 'Cleric rapped for remarks on top diplomat'. Print Edition | Subscribe