Indonesian presidential race shows Islamic fundamentalism gaining ground: NPR

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Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, is due to go to the polls on Wednesday, when voters choose between incumbent President Jokowi Widodo and a former Suharto-era general.



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The presidential race in Indonesia exposed this fact. Islamic fundamentalism is gaining ground in the world’s most populous Muslim country. The current president is expected to be re-elected tomorrow. But as NPR’s Julie McCarthy reports, he has struggled against a growing movement.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The campaign’s closing rally showcased some of Indonesia’s greatest musical talent, but it was the president who received the rock star reception.

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JOKO WIDODO: (Spoken foreign language).

MCCARTHY: Almost 100,000 people screamed their approval as the president called out to the provinces. “Sunda, Java, Aceh – how are you? It was a nod to unity at a time when this vast country of 265 million people is challenged by growing and divisive religious fundamentalism. As he lobbied for harmony, President Joko Widodo – or Jokowi, as he is popularly called – also touted his roots as an ordinary man, especially appealing to the large pool of young Indonesian voters.

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WIDODO: (Spoken foreign language).

MCCARTHY: “You will vote to determine the future of Indonesia,” Jokowi, 57, told the crowd. “Choose a leader who is of the people and who places the people No. 1.” Jokowi’s rise from furniture maker to president is something of a political fairy tale for Indonesia’s fledgling democracy that began with the overthrow of President Suharto in 1998.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Prabowo. Prabowo. Prabowo.

MCCARTHY: On the other hand, Jokowi’s challenger comes from the privileged old guard. Prabowo Subianto is a former son-in-law of the late Suharto and a former military general accused of human rights violations. But he was never tried. And the alliance of the lawyer he was speaking to this evening encouraged him, admired his firmness.

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PRABOWO SUBIANTO: (spoken foreign language).

MCCARTHY: “We have to embrace everyone,” Prabowo says, “and welcome different points of view, not hate each other.” The 67-year-old former soldier has said he will negotiate with everyone. As Islamic fundamentalists gained weight during the campaign, Prabowo courted some of the more extreme parties. Dewi Fortuna Anwar of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences says democratic developments in Indonesia have opened up political space for fundamentalists.

DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: Islam is a reality in Indonesia. It is the religion of the majority of the Indonesian people, and there has been a growing trend towards greater Islamization and religious piety. Religious extremism has also made its way here.

MCCARTHY: But analyst Philips Vermonte insists that nothing has fundamentally changed.

PHILIPS VERMONTE: We have harmonious villages, you know? Of course, there are one or two cases that show the opposite. But in general, we are a moderate country.

MCCARTHY: But President Jokowi’s own choice for a running mate has shocked even his most ardent supporters. He put a cleric on the ticket, someone known for his harsh views on things like LGBT rights. Human Rights Watch says the president’s election raises questions about his commitment to protecting human rights for all. But banker and supporter Donny Donoseputro says the move helps Jokowi end claims that he is not Islamic enough.

DONNY DONOSEPUTRO: It’s a decision that must be appreciated. He has to do what he has to do.

MCCARTHY: The inclusion of a conservative cleric on the ticket may deepen Islamic support for Jokowi. But if he won a second term, he would face the daunting task of balancing growing Islamization with his more secular goals of building roads and strengthening his country’s young workforce. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Jakarta.

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