Despite being a fugitive in Saudi Arabia hiding from pornography charges brought against him by the Indonesia Police, Rizieq Shihab, the founder of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), still holds a great deal of political sway in his homeland. On Saturday, two of the country’s most senior political figures, Gerindra chairman (and likely 2019 presidential candidate) Prabowo Subianto and National Mandate Party (PAN) board of trustees chairman Amien Rais, met Rizieq in the Holy Land to discuss political matters.
Novel Bamukmin, a spokesperson for Brotherhood Alumni 212 (the political action group made up of “alumni” of the massive protest against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama on 2/12/2016), said that during the meeting with Prabowo and Amien, Rizieq said that he wanted PAN, and the Crescent Moon Party (PBB) to join Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) to form the “Koalisi Keumatan” (“People’s Coalition”) to back Prabowo and defeat President Joko Widodo in the 2019 presidential election.
“We hope PAN and PBB formally join Gerindra and PKS. [Rizieq Shihab] also conveyed that he will only support candidates supported by the coalition and sanctioned by the 212 clerics,” said Novel (the former FPI Jakarta spokesperson known to some as “Fitsah Hats”) as quoted by Tempo.
Although Prabowo has been named Gerindra’s pick for presidential candidate, his candidacy remains unofficial as he does not yet meet certain political support thresholds needed to register a candidate. For that, Gerindra will need the backing of other parties. Although PKS, PAN and PBB have all indicated they would be willing to join Prabowo’s coalition, nothing has been finalized as the parties are still negotiating terms (with fighting particularly fraught over who would be Prabowo’s potential VP).
The photos of Prabowo in Mecca with Rizieq are the clearest sign yet that the loser of the 2014 presidential election may embrace the Islamist-backed 212 protest movement in order to win in his rematch with the incumbent. Many analysts believe that it was Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan’s embrace of Rizieq and the Islamists’ anti-Ahok movement that brought him victory in the 2017 election and many predicted the opposition might adopt a similar strategy in 2019. Given that PKS, PAN and PBB are all considered “Islam-based” political parties, it looks increasingly likely that is the tact Prabowo will take.
But while Rizieq may still hold some sway even in exile, his words alone were evidently not enough for PAN to commit to a coalition, with PAN honorary board member Dradjad Wibowo saying that while they had agreed to more intensive discussions with the other parties, the particulars of a formal partnership still needed to be worked out.