RIDWAN KAMIL, mayor of Indonesia’s second largest city Bandung, says Islamic hardliners have told him “you are the next Ahok”, following the just-concluded Jakarta poll that saw incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama lose his coveted post as governor.
At the Economist Indonesia Summit 2017 in the capital on Thursday, Emil as he is known was asked for his thoughts on the tumultuous Wednesday contest while speaking on a panel about infrastructure in Indonesia.
“I have already felt the heat,” said Emil, “Some hardliners have already pointed the finger to me that ‘you will be the next Ahok’.”
“I said, let’s see what happens. I’ll take a chance,” he said.
Emil said whilst he supported the win of religious scholar and former national education minister Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno, he opposed their use of religious issues in campaigning against the incumbent Ahok, who is a Christian.
“Using the religious issues to win the seat in this diverse nation for me is backwards,” he said.
Emil is a successful architect who has overseen projects in Singapore, India and China including the Beijing Islamic Centre Mosque, before being elected Bandung Mayor in 2013.
As mayor he has built his reputation as a progressive mayor including popularising the campaign #BandungToleran – Bandung is tolerant.
— ridwan kamil (@ridwankamil) December 24, 2016
Whilst Bandung is a cosmopolitan metropolis known for its universities and textiles industry, and is historically deemed the ‘Paris of Java’, it is situated in poor and religiously conservative West Java province.
Last Christmas, hardliners shut down a Christian service in Bandung, claiming it was wrong to host it in a public place rather than a church. These groups also campaigned against Christmas decorations in malls and Muslim shop workers wearing Santa hats.
A government building in Bandung was targeted by an Islamist bomber in January, who was shot by police before anybody was injured.
“We are the biggest Muslim country in the world. I’ve very proud to say democracy works very well here in Indonesia, not like in the Middle East for example,” said Emil on Wednesday.
“But we still need to learn on how to send a message and create a fair, competitive and very fundamental democracy.”
The mayor argued that the Jakarta election showed a need to better educate voters, stating that “I think Pak Ahok was very good in doing his job but in democracy, the vote by a university professor is the same as the vote as an Uber driver, for example. It’s the same value.”
Also speaking at the event on Thursday, Indonesian industry minister Airlangga Hartarto said “Jakarta is not Indonesia,” and that elections in the West, Central and East Java provinces in 2018 would also shape the 2019 presidential election.
In Emil’s province of West Java, the most populous electorate in the country, 34 million voters will go to the polls to elect their governor in 2018.
Speaking on the development of infrastructure in Indonesia – a major focus of the Jokowi administration – Emil said that “the need is there” and that “the vision is clear” from the central government, but that funding from Jakarta was inadequate to meet the needs of municipal governments.
The mayor said that public-private partnerships had been key to developing Bandung’s infrastructure and invited foreign investors to contact him directly rather than to go through Indonesia’s government, given that the country’s 500 city administrations have 70 percent autonomy.
Emil also expressed hope that a high-speed train between Jakarta and Bandung would be complete by 2020.