Using a derogatory term for ethnic Chinese, he sparks outrage among Indonesians in order to instigate a new wave of "social differentiation". Anies Baswedan is backed by the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Gerindra, a nationalist party. Sectarian divisions and religion played a decisive role in his victory against his rival.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The controversy caused by a derogatory statement made by Jakarta’s new governor, Anies Baswedan, in his inaugural speech continues unabated.
Yesterday evening, on the margins of his swearing in ceremony, Baswedan said that "We –the pribumi (natives) – should govern Jakarta”, sparking a wave of criticism.
In his statement, he said that Jakarta suffered from "modern colonialism", and praised the struggle by indigenous people for freedom and independence. “It is now the time that we – the pribumi – should be the master in our own land.”
Baswedan and his deputy, Sandiaga Uno (pictured), are backed by the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the nationalist Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), which played a decisive role in their victory last April in what analysts call the "hottest elections ever seen in the capital".
In the campaign for the governorship, sectarian and religious issues used by Baswedan and his coalition proved crucial against their rival, former Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, who had been the odds-on favourite.
Used by Dutch settlers for the country’s natives, the term "Pribumi" became a derogatory term under the regime of President Suharto (1967-1998).
It was used to differentiate natives from the "non Pribumi", that is, Indonesians of Chinese background, subject to the severe repression by the authorities of the time.
For many Indonesians, Baswedan’s use of the term is a way to instigate a new wave of "social differentiation", a clear reference to his predecessor’s ethnicity.
Outraged reactions found an echo in social media, where many came to Ahok’s defence, who symbolised the good politics that changed the face of the city.
What is more, many have pointed out that Baswedan himself cannot be considered a Pribumi since he is of Arab origin.
Over the past few months, strong tensions have agitated Indonesian politics and society. The actions by Islamist political parties and movements like those that support Jakarta’s new governor culminated in Ahok’s sentence of two years in prison for blasphemy at the end of a trial marred by the manoeuvres of extremists.
Criticism by ordinary Indonesians, especially by Jakarta residents, also involve Baswedan’s plans, as they seem to lack adequate financial coverage. Before he took office, the new governor promised "radical changes" for the city, some of them announced during the election campaign.
Jakarta’s new leader said that he wants to resolve the housing crisis by giving people the possibility of borrowing without a down payment in 2018. He also said he would help young entrepreneurs by providing them with financial capital.
He also pledged to shut down the Alexis Hotel for offering adult entertainment; stop the eviction of squatters in slum areas along river banks, which Ahok had tried to do; build a high-end football stadium, like Manchester’s Old Trafford; and stop coastal reclamation projects in North Jakarta, which seemingly benefitted mostly ethnic Chinese.
For many analysts, such goals are unrealistic, whilst detractors define them as marketing tricks meant to boost the new governor’s popularity.
The choice of the location, symbol of Indonesia’s struggle for independence, is inappropriate. The attempt to gain "political benefits" by exploiting the religious festivity is criticised.
Extremists’ use of religion and ethnicity has pushed Indonesians into opposing camps. Voters will elect local governments on 27 June this year, and choose a new president and parliament on 17 April 2019.