Vice-presidential hopeful Ma'ruf Amin was yesterday forced to explain an old statement he made about former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who the cleric said was the "source of conflict" in Indonesia and "must be finished off".
His remarks, caught in a video widely shared recently, reinforces his conservative stance, which could put off some voters in the presidential elections on April 17.
It also brings back bad memories for supporters of President Joko Widodo who still recall how Dr Ma'ruf testified against Mr Basuki, popularly known as Ahok, at his blasphemy trial.
Dr Ma'ruf said his comments were from a meeting with other religious leaders that took place before he was appointed as Mr Joko's running mate in August last year.
"At that time, some clerics asked me to support Anies as a presidential candidate," said Dr Ma'ruf, referring to Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who defeated Mr Basuki in the 2017 governor's race.
Mr Basuki is said to be a close ally of President Joko, who will be hoping to tap the former's support base in his bid for re-election.
When pressed by reporters while campaigning in Garut, West Java, yesterday, Dr Ma'ruf said he chose to back Mr Joko, despite objections from the clerics, according to a Detik news report.
Dr Ma'ruf's explanation, however, is unlikely to hold water with Mr Basuki's supporters, who remember how the cleric, in his capacity as Indonesia Ulema Council chairman, was a key prosecution witness against Mr Basuki, later convicted of insulting the Quran and jailed for two years.
Fake news hits polls commission, air force
FAKE NEWS, AGAIN
• The General Elections Commission (KPU) said it will file a police report over a viral video claiming its computer servers in Singapore have been rigged for President Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin to win on April 17 with 57 per cent of the vote.
• KPU official Hasyim Azhari yesterday said the commission does not operate any servers overseas. He also explained that votes are counted manually at polling stations before being consolidated at KPU's headquarters in Jakarta.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
• The air force yesterday refuted allegations that three of its fighter jets had prevented a plane carrying presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto from taking off.
• An air force spokesman said Mr Prabowo's private jet had to abort take-off for safety concerns, and that it had "nothing to do" with the Sukhoi jets.
• Mr Prabowo cancelled his visit to Bangka Belitung yesterday because of flu. He will regroup in Jakarta today, ahead of his rally there on Sunday.
•Mr Prabowo's running mate Sandiaga Uno will be campaigning in East Kalimantan. President Joko will head to West Java province, where he will visit Cirebon and Indramaya.
WHAT DO SURVEYS SHOW?
• Mr Joko's electability has not been affected by the graft probe involving United Development Party chief Muhammad Romahurmuziy, whose faction is a key Islamic peg in the President's coalition. Indikator Politik Indonesia executive director Burhanuddin Muhtadi said a survey his firm conducted after Romahurmuziy's arrest last month saw Mr Joko and Dr Ma'ruf securing 55.4 per cent of support against 37.4 per cent for the Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket.
• A new report by The Economist Intelligence Unit says Mr Joko will win a second term, but warns that such pre-election polls are not always reliable. In 2014, pollsters predicted that Mr Joko would win by a wide margin, but the results were surprisingly close.
The surprise move by Mr Joko, a reform-minded leader and champion of pluralism, to pick Dr Ma'ruf as his running mate had disappointed many of these same supporters. They believe Dr Ma'ruf's expression of regret for testifying at the blasphemy trial was politically motivated.
Mr Noory Okthariza, a political expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, told The Straits Times the clip will largely not affect Mr Joko's chances at the polls. "The voters are more familiar now with political interests, contestations, etc, so they know which issues are politically motivated," he said.
He added that with the polls set to open in less than two weeks, supporters of both Mr Joko, and his rival Prabowo Subianto would have firmed up their decisions on whom they will be voting for.
The incident, however, reinforces findings in a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), out yesterday, which said Mr Joko's move to align himself with the conservative Islamic mainstream will depress turnout among his core support base.
Indeed, many of the President's supporters from 2014 were disappointed with his decision to pick Dr Ma'ruf.
EIU analyst and author of the Indonesia report, Ms Anwita Basu, said Mr Joko now faces the risk that such young liberals "will not back him with the same enthusiasm that they did in 2014".
Still, CSIS has forecast a win for Mr Joko; the centre last week released a survey showing that 84 per cent of Joko-Ma'ruf supporters are firm in their decision, compared with 81 per cent for Mr Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno.