As the leader of the infamous Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who was at the forefront of the 212 protest movement that took down former Jakarta Governor Basuki Ahok Tjahaja Purnama, Rizieq Shihab still manages to hold quite a bit of political clout – even from Saudi Arabia (where he has been hiding from the Indonesian police for over a year after being named a suspect in a high-profile pornography case).
As such, the recent news that members of various Islamist hardliner groups associated with FPI and the 212 protest movement had secretly met with President Joko Widodo on Sunday led to some questions about who Rizieq might throw his considerable weight behind in the 2019 presidential election.
The idea that Rizieq and the so-called 212 “alumni” (as they like to be called, in reference to the massive anti-Ahok protest on 2/12/2016) might actually flip their anti-Jokowi script and support the incumbent in the next election still seems very far-fetched. The party of Jokowi’s likely 2019 challenger, Prabowo Subianto, seems sure that Rizieq will back the Gerindra chairman and even seems to be lobbying for the support of the controversial figure.
When asked by reporters whether he believed the fugitive FPI leader would back Prabowo, Gerindra communications head Andre Rosiade answered, “Insyaallah, we are optimistic that Muslims and the ulema (Islamic scholars) will support Pak Prabowo,” as quoted by Detik yesterday.
The man who beat Ahok in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race, Anies Baswedan, did so in large part because he courted the support of Rizieq and the 212 hardliners, even speaking in front of the FPI at one infamous meeting. At the same time, he denied he had actively sought the support of the anti-Ahok extremists for political gain.
But evidently Gerindra doesn’t see any PR problems with welcoming the support of Rizieq, who has a long history of inciting violence against minorities and has been charged with numerous crimes (besides those infamous and highly ironic pornography charges). He suggested that Prabowo’s track record of consulting Islamic scholars would get the FPI leader’s support.
“We respect and appreciate the attitude of the 212 Brotherhood, who await the recommendation from Habib Rizieq on which presidential candidate to support in the 2019 election. Of course, PA 212’s support is based on the current track record of the candidates to the people and the ulema,” Andre said.
With Prabowo’s current poll position against the incumbent looking quite poor (even more so in the latest major survey) it seems likely that for him to have any real shot at beating Jokowi after already being defeated by him once in 2014, the Gerindra chairman will try to use a similar strategy that was used to defeat Ahok by getting Rizieq and his 212 alums to smear Jokowi as being somehow anti-Islam.
Such a scenario is still very speculative, considering Prabowo is far from consolidating the political coalitions he would need to make his candidacy official. But Gerindra’s open arms towards Rizieq portend a potentially ugly election fight in 2019.