Jokowi boosts Islamic credentials by joining hands with top cleric

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (second from left) and running mate Ma'ruf Amin (third from left) submitting their nomination papers in Jakarta yesterday. With them is former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (second from left) and running mate Ma'ruf Amin (third from left) submitting their nomination papers in Jakarta yesterday. With them is former president Megawati Sukarnoputri. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

As Mr Joko Widodo, 57, seeks a second five-year term, the reform-minded President is pairing up with renowned cleric Ma'ruf Amin, 75, to boost his Islamic credentials.

Mr Joko, who began his political career as mayor of Solo in Central Java, vowed to achieve 7 per cent annual economic growth in his 2014 campaign. However, South-east Asia's largest economy has managed to grow by only around 5 per cent a year during his tenure, although the jobless rate has fallen to its lowest level in two decades.

The track record of the former furniture businessman is also saved by his ambitious infrastructure push to connect the sprawling archipelago of over 17,000 islands, and a series of business-friendly reforms.

Mr Joko said he shares a similar vision with Dr Ma'ruf on how to carry out economic empowerment in the nation of 260 million people.

"We share the view that as the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, we must address poverty and inequality by strengthening the economy of the umat (Muslim community) nationwide," Mr Joko said after submitting their nomination at the General Elections Commission yesterday.

Dr Ma'ruf, the supreme leader of the country's largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, with 40 million members, has experience in the syariah economy, with past roles in various Islamic financial institutions. An Islamic boarding school he founded runs a syariah-based micro-bank.

  • Joko Widodo, 57

    • Born in Solo, Central Java.

    • Graduated from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

    • Made a name as a furniture exporter and ran for mayor of Solo in 2005 under the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) ticket.

    • Gained recognition for cleaning up the city and improving its infrastructure and public services.

    • Ran for Jakarta governor in 2012 with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as deputy.

    • The first Indonesian president to come from outside the political, business or military elites.

  • Ma'ruf Amin, 75

    • Born in Tangerang, Banten.

    • Graduated from Ibnu Khaldun University in Bogor and became a teacher and Islamic scholar.

    • Was a member of Indonesia's Parliament from the United Development Party from 1973 to 1997, and from the National Awakening Party from 1999 to 2004.

    • Has long been a member of the country's largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, and was elected its supreme leader in 2015.

    • Sat on Presidential Advisory Council from 2007 to 2014.

    • Elected chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council, the top Muslim clerical body, in 2015.

    • Sits on the board of BPIP, an agency to promote state ideology Pancasila, but critics say his conservatism has fed intolerance.

The chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council also stole the limelight when he condemned former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian and an ally of Mr Joko, as a blasphemer for allegedly insulting the Quran during the Jakarta gubernatorial election campaign last year. He later testified in Basuki's trial.

Mr Joko began to build a closer relationship with the Islamic cleric after the massive protest against Basuki last November. The attempt has been seen by many as the President's effort to approach Muslim groups and quash the image in some circles that he is anti-Islam. This might prevent a repeat of racial and religious tensions in the lead-up to next April's presidential polls.

Dr Siti Zuhro of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences said Mr Joko's move would not be an effective tool to win Muslim voters.

"Indonesia's Muslim community has varied, rather than monolithic, aspirations, and the diversity is reflected in various voter behaviours. There is no guaranteed measure to lure Muslim voters," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2018, with the headline 'Jokowi boosts Islamic credentials by joining hands with top cleric'. Print Edition | Subscribe