Despite President Joko Widodo standing strong in the polls while his potential (though still far from certain) 2019 election rival Prabowo Subianto sinks, he will still have to stave off many challenges to ensure his chances at re-election. One of those challenges will almost certain come from the coalition of Islamist hardliner groups associated with the 212 protest movement that helped ensure the defeat of former Jakarta Governor (and former right-hand to Jokowi) Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the 2017 gubernatorial election and his eventual jailing for blasphemy.
Many have worried that, following Ahok’s defeat, the hardliner coalition would exercise outsized influence on Indonesian politics by threatening Jokowi and other politicians with similar protests fueled by smears and conspiracy theories that they were anti-Islam. But after months of infighting and apparent loss of clout, it seems the 212 “alumni” (as they often refer to themselves, in reference to the massive December 2, 2016 anti-Ahok protest) decided to soften their hardline approach to the president by meeting with him on Sunday.
A group of representatives from the main groups in the coalition, including Persaudaraan 212, the National Movement of the Ulema’s Fatwa Guards (GNPF) and Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), met with Jokowi on Sunday at the Bogor Palace. However the media was not made aware of the meeting until later when a photo showing the 212 alums walking alongside the president was spread on social media.
One of the Persaudaran 212 representatives, Misbahul Anam, who is also a senior FPI member, said he was shocked at seeing the photo online as all of the 212 alumni had had their mobile phones confiscated during their meeting with the president. He said he suspected that somebody within the palace leaked the photo.
“Our mobile phones were all confiscated, but the photo went viral, which means it came from somebody on the inside,” Misbah told CNN Indonesia today.
During a press conference today to explain the previously secret meeting, Misbah said the meeting had been to discuss the government’s so-called criminalization of the ulema and 212 activists. But Jokowi described it much differently, saying it was basically a social meeting involving informal discussion, lunch and prayer.
“Regarding my Sunday meeting, almost every day, every week I go to boarding schools to meet the ulema and I invite them to the palace. For what? In order to establish bonds with the scholars, habib, kyai, ustadz from all provinces in the country, in order to establish our brotherhood and to maintain unity among us,” Jokowi said yesterday as quoted by Detik.
The fact that the meeting was kept a secret from the media indicates that the usually press-hungry 212 alumni were embarrassed about being seen breaking bread with their proclaimed enemy, and since the meeting was not done for PR purposes to make them look good, it suggests that they were attempting to leverage their increasingly limited political clout to get some sort of favor from Jokowi (perhaps a deal to drop the charges against Rizieq, the fugitive FPI leader, so that he could finally return to Indonesia after his months of hiding in Saudi Arabia – though we’re quite sure that isn’t going to happen).