Commentary: #2019GantiPresiden shows all that is wrong with our democracy

First of all, no, I do not condone any attempts by the state apparatus, let alone angry mobs, to restrict the #2019GantiPresiden ( 2019ChangePresident ) movement.

People may disagree with its premise or its purpose, but the political hashtag is speech that should be protected, and the people supporting it should be granted the right to assemble, as stipulated by the Constitution.

The hashtag movement, however, is extremely problematic. It may not be “treasonous” or “subversive”, as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s backers claim, but it does show everything that is wrong with our democracy.

Jokowi has all the reason to be concerned about the movement, but the President should know he also played a role in midwifing its birth. It is, metaphorically speaking, a Frankenstein’s monster that Jokowi helped create.

The movement began as an online hashtag initiated by Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician Mardani Ali Sera. Catchy and easy to remember, the hashtag swiftly went viral on social media and later metastasized into a much bigger and more potent offline political movement that caught Jokowi by surprise.

The President responded to the hashtag way too early, snidely saying to a national audience that the #2019GantiPresident T-shirts could never topple him. “I do not think that you can replace a president by wearing T-shirts,” he said.

Despite his disparaging comment, Jokowi’s social media team came up with #2019TetapJokowi ( 2019StillJokowi ) to counter the movement, giving it more credibility and making it even more popular than before.

In his latest blunder, Jokowi lauded the police’s attempts to suppress the#GantiPresiden movement, to the cheers of his opponents who badly need a legitimate cause to oust him and to the chagrin of those who fear Jokowi’s illiberal turn.

The movement has thrived even more.

There is no denying the latter hashtag is an effective political slogan, but we also know it is basically an act of desperation from a fractured opposition camp that has struggled to find a worthy candidate to justify the very reason the hashtag was created in the first place.

And that is not entirely their fault. The elites, including Jokowi himself, have favored a political system designed to limit the number of presidential contenders sans a transparent and democratic nomination process.

Jokowi supported the 20 percent election threshold for parties to field a presidential candidate, a policy that critics say would only deprive voters from having more choices during the election and would encourage parties to engage in elitist and costly backroom dealings in nominating a candidate.

The opposition camp spent months of political jockeying to find the best candidate to fight Jokowi, only to come up with Prabowo, who is backed by the largest opposition party, and Sandiaga Uno, a successful businessman that could help finance their campaign throughout the election.

In a last-minute decision, Jokowi picked senior cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate allegedly to prevent the National Awakening Party (PKB) from creating a third coalition with the Democratic Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Indeed, making the presidential nomination process transparent is no guarantee we will not have a populist running for office, but it could increase the chance of having more and better options in presidential elections.

More importantly, it could prevent the emergence of a rather absurd political movement like #2019GantiPresiden, which could easily devolve into an orgy of hate against Jokowi without an alternative candidate to offer.

Mardani admitted he continued to rally for the hashtag because not all people opposed to Jokowi supported Prabowo, particularly those likely to vote based on religious considerations, and believe that neither Prabowo nor his running mate Sandiaga has adequate Islamic credentials.

The hashtag has been massively campaigned without mentioning the only alternative candidate to Jokowi in 2019 — Prabowo — and gained the support of anti-Jokowi activists like Muslim preacher Neno Warisman.

In her political orations, Neno has often invoked God and recited Quranic verses to rile up the masses. While she also mentions Jokowi’s unfulfilled promises as a reason why the incumbent should be replaced, her political activism seems to be motivated more by her religious conviction.

During a rally in Medan, footage of which is available on YouTube, Neno called on her supporters to vote against Jokowi to prevent their children from “becoming homosexuals”. The movement does smack of sectarianism and is widely popular among voters with irrational fears of Jokowi.

The hashtag campaign is clearly unfair to the President. It forces him to fight his own shadow and perennially places him as the more secular candidate vis-à-vis an imagined Muslim candidate that neither Jokowi nor the voters could ever assess or scrutinize.

In the name of democracy, the #2019GantiPresiden movement should not be restricted, but this is certainly not a democracy we wished to have when thousands of students staged rallies and risked their lives to end the New Order.

It is bad enough to have the same options in two presidential elections. The last thing we need is a political movement that offers nothing but the vague idea that literally everyone but the incumbent is a better president.

We deserve better than this.


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