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Smear campaigns intensify as poll nears in Indonesia

Publication Date : 26-05-2014


Five weeks ahead of the July 9 presidential election, both presidential candidates — the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the Gerindra Party’s Prabowo Subianto — have become targets of smear campaigns that have mostly turned up on the Internet and social media.

In recent days, pictures of what were purported to be copies of Jokowi’s marriage document and identification card, suggesting that the former Surakarta mayor was of Chinese descent and was a Christian, circulated online. The document said that Jokowi’s full name was Herbertus Handoko Joko Widodo, the son of Oey Hong Liong, a local Surakarta businessman of Chinese descent.

The circulation of the documents was allegedly aimed at eroding support for Jokowi among Muslim voters, who make up the majority of the 190 million voters eligible to cast their ballots in the July 9 poll.

After initially ignoring the smear campaign, Jokowi stepped up to defend his true identity, challenging his critics to instead bring up a more substantial discussion.

“I went on the haj pilgrimage in 2003. And I have performed the minor haj at least four times. My father, mother and siblings have also performed the haj. And so did my wife,” Jokowi said on the sidelines of his visit to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, on Sunday.

Jokowi also said he did not believe voters would be swayed by such a cowardly campaign.

“Look at the way the campaign was launched. I believe that people are smart enough to respond to such accusations. Nevertheless, it’s better to debate ideas or programs instead of such unfounded allegations,” he said.

Jokowi said, however, that he would not take the smear campaign lightly.

He said that his campaign team was launching an investigation into the source of the documents, which were allegedly forged, and would take legal action against the person who initiated the smear campaign.

The attack on his faith and ethnicity was only the latest in series of broadsides against Jokowi, who has earlier been described as a puppet who would be controlled by PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri if elected.

The attack on Jokowi’s independence intensified after Megawati made a speech during a ceremony to declare Jokowi’s candidacy earlier this month, in which she reiterated that Jokowi was merely an officer of the party.

Meanwhile, Prabowo has also become the target of smear campaigns, a move that he attributed to his opponents being in a state of “panic”.

After repeatedly fending off allegations about his involvement in a gross violation of human rights that took place during the May 1998 anti-Chinese riots, Prabowo now has to face questions about his alleged Jordanian citizenship.

In recent days, a number of online articles have begun to look to the time when Prabowo left Indonesia for Jordan, following the May 1998 riots.

Some of the articles said that he was granted Jordanian citizenship by the country’s leader King Abdullah II, who happened to be Prabowo’s friend from his time at Fort Benning, the US.

Prabowo declined to address the accusation directly.

“Smear campaigns are a sign of panic. Don’t spread lies and don’t make baseless accusations,” he told reporters.

Separately, a member of Prabowo’s legal team, Mahendradatta, said he would file a report with the National Police against a Twitter user behind the @SamadAbraham account, which alleged that Prabowo had cooked up a plot to murder Jokowi. The account, which has not been linked to Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman Abraham Samad, called on the public to protect Jokowi from the plot.

“This is unacceptable because it has tainted the credibility of a state institution like the KPK. We demand the police immediately do something about it because the damaging tweets have been massively retweeted,” Mahendradatta said.


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