Jakarta governor election: Respected Muslim scholar sets sights on top office

Campaigning for February's election for the next Jakarta governor began last month. Incumbent Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama has been leading in the opinion polls but has seen his numbers slip of late. Mr Basuki was officially named a suspect in a blasphemy case last week, a development some observers described as a gift to his two main challengers - Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and Mr Anies Baswedan.

A renowned Muslim scholar listed among the world's top 100 public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine in 2008, Mr Anies Baswedan has made no bones about wanting to be Indonesia's next president.

The 47-year-old former rector of Paramadina University in Jakarta is widely respected as an academic who has spoken about the role of Islam in Indonesian democracy at global forums.

His most notable achievement was initiating Gerakan Indonesia Mengajar, or the "Teaching Indonesia" movement, which has recruited and trained young volunteer professionals to teach poor Indonesians in remote regions countrywide.

Of Arab lineage, he is the grandson of the late Abdurrahman Baswedan, who was deputy minister for information under Indonesia's first president, Soekarno. Mr Anies is married with four children.

Eloquent and soft-spoken, he holds a doctorate in political science from Northern Illinois University, a master's in public policy from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and a business management degree from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

His candidacy in the gubernatorial race did not come as a surprise, and he has been touted as a serious contender against the incumbent, Mr Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, although Mr Anies' electability ratings are lower. His supporters are intellectuals and those from the middle and upper classes.

He is partnering businessman Sandiaga Uno on the ticket of 2014 presidential runner-up Prabowo Subianto's Gerindra Party. If elected as governor, Mr Anies has promised programmes for social welfare, particularly in health and education.

The scholar was picked by President Joko Widodo to be his spokesman during the 2014 presidential election campaign. Later appointed culture and education minister, Mr Anies was dropped just 20 months later.

There was speculation that his ambition to contest the 2019 presidential election had bothered Mr Joko. Political analyst Arbi Sanit said, whatever the speculation, his dismissal could be viewed by ordinary voters as incompetence.

Mr Joko's recent meetings with Mr Prabowo have spurred talk that Mr Anies might gain the backing of the president if Ahok falls into disfavour because of an ongoing case in which the Chinese-Christian Jakarta governor has been accused of blasphemy against Islam.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) analyst Siti Zuhro said: "Politics is very dynamic. There could be political manoeuvres. It doesn't close the possibility that support might move to Anies."

Arlina Arshad

This article was first published on Nov 21, 2016.
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