Indonesia’s 2019 Elections: How Will the Religion Factor Play Out?

By Erin Cook | The Diplomat

The runup to Indonesia’s presidential elections next year has offered a brief quiet period in the past couple of weeks, relatively speaking. Both tickets are readying their campaign teams ahead of launching an electoral assault toward April. Nonetheless, that has not stopped the endless speculation about how candidates’ strategies have fared for them thus far.

One of the angles being explored is the extent to which religious issues are affecting the race. Already, cracks in incumbent President Joko Widodo’s base have appeared, with former supporters accusing the president of selling himself out as he cozies up with ultra-conservative political elements. Still, walking a moderate line has nonetheless served him well in the opening weeks of the campaign. Will that satisfy progressive voters?

One of the first substantial polls since the close of nominations in early August shows major supporters of the country’s major Muslim groups leaning as expected. Widodo has secured the support of a majority of members of Nahdlatul Ulama – the world’s largest Muslim body. Winning this group’s support was the extraordinarily transparent motivation behind selecting 75-year-old NU chair Ma’ruf Amin as Widodo’s vice presidential candidate; the 59 percent of respondents to the September 3 Y-Publica poll supporting the pairing shows it was a worthy investment. By comparison, the Subianto-Uno ticket won the support of just 23.3 percent of respondents.