On Thursday, when President Joko Widodo announced that he had chosen Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) leader Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate in next year’s election, the surprise pick disappointed many of the president’s more progressive supporters.
Although it’s generally agreed that Ma’ruf will greatly help Jokowi mobilize Muslim voters and neutralize attempts by the opposition to attack him on religious issues, liberals were quick to note that Ma’ruf has helped enact numerous policies that discriminate against religious minorities. Perhaps most unforgivably for some, Ma’ruf also signed the blasphemy fatwa against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama that led to the massive “212” protest movement against the Chinese Christian politician, his eventual election loss and his current imprisonment in a cell at the Mako Brimob detention center.
But one person who says he does not hold a grudge against Ma’ruf is Ahok himself. That’s according to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, who says that he received a letter from Ahok on Saturday expressing his continuing support for Jokowi (whom Ahok served as vice governor of Jakarta before Jokowi ascended to the presidency).
“So there are those who say that Pak Ahok is angry (at Jokowi for choosing Ma’ruf)? Yesterday, Ahok wrote a letter to me, in it he said that he was happy (with the decision) and that when he gets out of jail he would like to join their campaign team,” Luhut said at an event at Hotel Borobudur on Sunday as quoted by Merdeka.
Luhut also said that some Ahok supporters had met with the former governor over the weekend and confirmed that he supports Ma’ruf as Jokowi’s VP pick, adding that he hoped the clarification would help unify the country so that it can move on and move forward.
The chances of Ahok reentering the world of politics after his imprisonment have seemed pretty unlikely. Although he has mentioned to visitors the possibility of going back into politics before, the unfortunate reality is that his blasphemy conviction will almost certainly remain an opening for aggressive attacks from Islamist protesters for years to come — against both Ahok and any party that supports him.
But if Ma’ruf were to publicly forgive Ahok, tell the public he had atoned for his blasphemy and moved on… well, that might actually be one of the few scenarios in which we could see Ahok being able to return to public office. It would certainly make it more difficult for hardliners to keep attacking him on that front.
Allowing Ahok to join his campaign would be a huge risk for Jokowi, but with Ma’ruf as his running mate his already strong poll numbers against his only rival candidate, Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto, will likely rise even further. So much so that he could potentially afford to take Ahok on.