“Anies Baswedan Takes Top Jakarta Office Amidst Controversy Over Pribumi Comments” by Charlotte Setijadi

2017/60, 20 October 2017

On 16 October 2017, Anies Baswedan was sworn in as Jakarta’s new governor at a high-profile swearing-in ceremony. Along with his Deputy Sandiaga Uno, Baswedan won a religiously and racially charged Jakarta election that ultimately saw former ethnic Chinese Christian incumbent governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama sent to jail for two years under the charge of blasphemy against Islam. Backed by hardline Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), as well as Jokowi opponent Prabowo Subianto and his Gerindra party, Baswedan and Uno’s victory alarmed Indonesia’s moderates and progressives who are concerned that politics at the nation’s capital will now take a more conservative and xenophobic turn.

After winning the election, Baswedan and Uno promised to unite the divided citizens of Jakarta as soon as they assumed office. However, Mr Baswedan’s inauguration speech did not give an impression of a leader intent on unifying Jakarta’s multicultural and highly plural society. Many were deeply disappointed by Baswedan’s inauguration speech where he invoked notions of pribumism, nationalist tropes, religiosity, and fragments of New Order-era Pancasila ideological lessons. Most controversial was a segment in Baswedan’s speech where he said: “In the past, we pribumi were oppressed and defeated. Now we have independence, now is the time to be the host in our own home.”

Critics quickly took to social media to express concerns that Baswedan’s speech was racist and inflammatory. Baswedan’s populist rhetoric also further fueled speculations that he could possibly run as a candidate in the 2019 presidential election. Although both he and his backer Prabowo have denied the possibility, Baswedan has proven himself to be an ambitious and savvy politician, and his speech has strengthened rumors of his presidential ambitions.

Now, Jakarta residents and Indonesia observers will be closely watching the new governor’s next moves, both administratively and politically. The pressure is on for Baswedan to make good on his lofty election promises, which include programs such as ‘zero down-payment’ scheme to provide housing for low-income families, as well as the promise not to evict residents of kampung (urban village) areas along Jakarta’s riverbanks and his promise to stop the controversial Jakarta Cove reclamation project.

Dr Charlotte Setijadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. 

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