The last two weeks have been pretty rough for Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and his supporters. First, there was the massive November 4 protest against him for his alleged blasphemy against the Qu’ran, and then yesterday he was formally named a suspect by the National Police. Many believe that Ahok’s political enemies fueled the protests and forced the police’s hand in naming him a suspect, and many believe that as a consequence his chances of winning the 2017 Jakarta governor’s election might already be dashed (not to mention his entire political career).
But nobody should count Ahok out yet. He’s still fighting and vowing to continue his campaign despite his legal status. And there are some political analysts who argue that he not only still has a shot, but that the investigation into his blasphemy charges may actually end up helping him.
First of all, Ahok is likely still the frontrunner in the election. Although no polls have been completed since he was named a suspect, polls released after the November 4 protest showed that the incumbent governor remained ahead of his two rival candidates in the election (though his electability has no doubt taken a large hit in the last few weeks).
While he is likely to take a further hit in the polls after yesterday’s announcement, most who had withdrawn their support over the blasphemy charges likely did so before he was named a suspect, meaning he still has a strong core of support amongst Jakartans that is not likely to waver further.
Several analysts also argued that Ahok’s suspect status might actually galvanize more of his supporters, since he could now be perceived as an underdog.
“As someone from a minority group, Ahok is being treated unfairly by the majority. Those who share this thought may be more convinced to vote for Ahok,” said Sirajuddin Abbas, program director at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC), as quoted by The Jakarta Post.
Veri Junaidi, chairman of the Konstitusi dan Demokrasi Inisiatif (Constitution and Democracy Iniative) also argued that Ahok could potentially use the blasphemy case to his advantage.
“There is a potential for his electability to rise if he uses this as momentum, to present himself as the one being oppressed or victimized,” Veri said today as quoted by Kompas.
In a widely shared opinion piece published by the Jakarta Post today, political analyst Rendi A. Witular argued that President Joko Widodo might have actually forced police to name his former right-hand man Ahok a suspect in order to temporarily appease hardliners and throw off his political enemies, but that ultimately it was a calculated move meant to help Ahok and the country in the long run.
For Ahok supporters looking for hope, it’s definitely a worthwhile read. Rendi also argues that Ahok’s suspect status could actually give the incumbent an advantage, writing “… as some part of the public will perceive him as the victim of a miscarriage of justice and this will garner him more support in the election. Using religious sentiment for the selection of leaders does not sell well in Jakarta and the Nov. 4 rally was actually dominated by participants from outside the capital.”
Of course, even if Ahok plays his cards perfectly, there is still the chance that he could lose in court and be found guilty of blasphemy, landing him in jail and almost certainly putting an end to his political career.
But let’s not forget that Ahok is among the savviest politicians in all of Indonesia. Before he came to Jakarta, he was incredibly popular as the regent of East Belitung, a province with a much higher percentage of Muslims than Jakarta. With a heavily publicized trial, he will have a platform to not only defend himself but also essentially campaign to the whole of Jakarta and Indonesia on a nearly daily basis.
His loose lips might have gotten him into this mess, but Ahok’s sharp tongue may yet get him out of it and ultimately win him the race. Stranger things have certainly happened this year, politically speaking at least.