Most analysts agree that, for President Joko Widodo, the main perk of having one of the most influential Islamic scholars in the country as his running mate in next year’s presidential election will be his increased ability to attract Muslim voters, including those many previously may have thought to be out of his reach.
According to Jokowi’s party, PDI-P, the president’s coalition is open to receiving an endorsement from Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab, who is currently in Saudi Arabia after having fled there last year to escape his infamous pornography case. Jokowi’s running mate, Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest clerical body in the country, is said to serve as an important bridge between Jokowi and Rizieq.
“Ma’ruf can be the bridge between groups who were closed off and Jokowi. This is the mediation and diplomacy that Ma’ruf is doing,” PDIP Central Leadership Board Head Andreas Hugo Pereira told CNN Indonesia yesterday.
“If possible, why not?” Andreas said on the possibility of Rizieq endorsing the Jokowi-Ma’ruf ticket.
Ma’ruf himself flew to Saudi Arabia recently to attend a global Islamic clerics summit, and he did not deny that he would meet with Rizieq while he’s there.
“We’ll see,” Ma’ruf said in Mecca on Saturday.
Rizieq played an instrumental part in the massive Islamic protests in 2016 against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama — a close ally of Jokowi — over his controversial blasphemy case. Ma’ruf himself played a huge role in Ahok’s eventual downfall and imprisonment for blasphemy, having signed off on the fatwa (religious edict) ruling that a speech given by the former governor had been insulting towards Islam.
In May 2017, Rizieq, a vocal critic of Jokowi, was named a suspect in a high-profile and highly ironic pornography case in which he was alleged to have received pornographic photos from a woman he was not married to. His suspect status was dropped about a year later as the police said they had insufficient evidence to process the case. Soon after, Rizieq’s lawyer joined PDI-P for next year’s legislative election, fueling speculation that Rizieq himself will soon follow suit in supporting Jokowi and his coalition.