Indonesia: Polarization in Politics: All a Cebong or Kampret

These days, it is hard to separate polarisasi politik from the everyday life of Indonesian citizens. This phenomenon – having a personal and emotionally charged negative feeling about those in the other political camp has risen sharply before the upcoming presidential election in April 2019. People experience it every day, from conservative media, social media, to Friday speeches in the mosques, school announcements, and the biggest and most important “platform” of polarisasi politik nowadays: WhatsApp groups. It shows that people in homogenous communities grow more certain of their political ideas and beliefs, causing them to become extreme. Campaigns by both parties on both conventional and social media just amplify this.

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The tale of two films

If you think that polarisasi politik is only about debates and speeches on television, and all those campaigns by the two official presidential candidates (President Joko Widodo and his contender Prabowo Subianto), think again. People can get a taste of polarisasi politik from these two biopic films: A Man Called Ahok (AMCA) and Hanum dan Rangga. Released on the same day, to me personally, this is the best example of how polarized Indonesian politics is these days.

A Man Called Ahok (AMCA) tells the story of the childhood of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), while Hanum dan Rangga is a love story about the relationship between Hanum Rais and her husband Rangga Almahendra. To make things interesting, Hanum is the daughter of Amien Rais, one of the driving forces behind the mob that successfully demanded Ahok (who is widely known as a strong ally of President Joko Widodo) be put in jail for blasphemy. Hanum Rais herself is a prominent member of her father’s party Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN), a faithful supporter of Prabowo Subianto.

Bandung, Indonesia – Take a look – Ali Yahya

The heated discussions – mostly having nothing to do with the production aspects of either film – are not only happening in social media, but extend all the way to IMDB. Rumor has it that it is mandatory for PAN’s supporters to go see Hanum dan Rangga, with the AMCA team giving away free tickets for people to boost the audience figures. The rating for A Man Called Ahok on IMDB is 9, 2 while for Hanum dan Rangga it is 1, 2 (ouch). As somebody with an open mind, you probably realize that the reviews might not come from a totally unbiased audience, but you can see this is how far the polarisasi politik has gone in Indonesia.

What is actually happening?

Experts say that the polarisasi politik happening in Indonesia is due to the aftermath of the 2014 presidential election. This trend continued in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2017, where identity politics were used to gain votes.

It’s no secret that the tensions in the 2019 election are already heating up in Indonesia. This is the second time Jokowi and Prabowo are competing against each other and all signs are pointing to an even rougher campaign.

Prabowo’s supporters call Jokowi’s supporters liars and infidels, while Jokowi’s fans stamp Prabowo’s supporters as a bunch of fascists and extremists with low IQs.

Indonesians – creative as ever with their words – even have two unofficially official names for these two extremes: cebong (Jokowi’s pet tadpole) for Jokowi’s supporters and kampret (a derogatory reference to bats) for Prabowo’s.

Most cebongs are also loyal supporters of Ahok, and they are the same people who oppose the idea of Islamic values (Sariah) dominating public policy and daily life.

Meanwhile, kamprets are those who support Prabowo (mostly since 2014) and tend to actively join the massive anti-Ahok rallies and loudly claim that Jokowi hates Islam.

Academics have concluded that there are three things that can be identified as the causes of polarisasi politik: difference in the empathy target, difference in phenomenon attribution and difference in a person’s moral values. When you look at Indonesian demographics, especially with the large social and economic divergences, it is no wonder that identity politics is popular. People can’t help but identify with a (bigger) group who they trust shares the same beliefs and defends their (personal) interests. The presidential election in Indonesia is no longer a contest between two candidates and their coalitions, but also a competition between two ideologies: a large Islamic coalition on one side and a nationalist secularist Islam and non-Islam on the other.

In the Indonesian political world today, the narrative seems to be: if you are on Jokowi’s side then you are anti-Islam, if you are on Prabowo’s, then you are an extremist.

Is it always bad?

One thing you can’t deny is that polarisasi politik triggers people’s curiosity and it motivates them to gather more information about their candidate. In today’s world, social media and group chats have made this information easy to obtain. With a few clicks, people can follow a conversation about politics via trending topics and comment sections.

The latest study reports that polarisasi stimulates people’s participation in politics. Alan Abramowitz (a professor of political science at Emory University) argues that polarization engages the public and increases participation in the electoral process. It has been noted in Indonesia that the number of voters who made use of their right to vote in the 2014 presidential election reached 70%. Not to mention that in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2014, voter turnout reached 70%, compared to 66.7% in 2012.

Polarisasi politik also motivates people to actively monitor the work of the government – with their own reasons, mind you – but nevertheless they are actively involved in the political process. The government is then required to be more transparent and accountable. In the period before the upcoming presidential election in 2019, the candidates (at least the ones with a good head on their shoulders) will also feel the urge to do the same with their campaigns and promises.

It seems logical that polarisasi politik could strengthen democracy if both sides would just stop using identity politics and negative campaigning to attack their rivals. It also seems logical that polarisasi politik would benefit democracy if people were to first check the authenticity of news or a story before sharing it on social media or in group chats. But the thing is, when you have decided to support one side no matter what, your heart has already decided that for you, and I’m afraid there’s not much room left for logic.

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