A campaigner explains why Ahok did well in 2012 but failed in the recent gubernatorial election.
HERE’S an Indonesian political quiz.
When you answer, think of Ahok, the nickname of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a double minority (Chinese and Christian) politician who lost in the Jakarta gubernatorial election.
In 2010, Agustin Teras Narang, a Christian Dayak, ran for Central Kalimantan governor. Narang is a double minority in a province in Borneo that has a Muslim-majority population. His ethnicity is a minority.
His main competitor was a devout Muslim endorsed by a strong party coalition that emphasised Narang’s double minority as its main political tool.
Did Narang win in Central Kalimantan, where more than 70% of the voters were Muslims and his ethnicity represented less than 35% of the voters?
“We properly managed his campaign and won the election,” said Eep Saefulloh Fatah, the CEO and founder of PolMark Indonesia.
“It was not a numbers game at all. Instead, it was about who could manage the most creative yet effective campaign among the participants. Jakarta (gubernatorial election) is not an exception.”
In October 2009, Eep started PolMark, a Jakarta-based centre for political marketing research and consultancy, and its first client was Narang.
Eep used Narang’s victory to answer my question on whether the Jakarta gubernatorial election was a numbers game which Ahok, as a double minority, was destined to lose.
“No! It is not a numbers game. Instead, it is a war of gaining and embracing people’s hearts,” he said.
In 2012, PolMark was involved in the Jokowi (Joko Widodo)-Ahok Jakarta gubernatorial campaign.
In 2017, PolMark was part of the Anies-Sandi (running mate Sandiaga Uno) campaign team that won 58% of the votes versus Ahok’s 42%.
Compared to his involvement with the Jokowi-Ahok team in 2012, Eep was more involved with the Anies-Sandi team. He was the War Room director and Debate Team chairman.
“If you were Ahok’s campaign strategist, what would you have advised him to do in order to win?” I asked.
Eep gave four points.
1. Focus on the strongest point Ahok has, which is what he has been successfully doing as the incumbent. The most important team he has to have is his issue management team.
2. Don’t be bothered by Ahok’s triple-minority status: Chinese, Christian, and not originally from Jakarta. Avoid this fact as a campaign main issue and focus merely on Ahok’s success story instead.
3. Seriously and carefully manage Muslim public opinion makers and leaders’ endorsements over time.
4. Try not to talk too much. For someone like Ahok, silence is golden! Let Djarot Saiful Hidaya (Ahok’s running mate) play as the main campaigner.
What was one of Anies’ winning strategies?
At the end of September last year, according to Eep, a team of experts conducted a crucial meeting focusing on management of campaign issues. One of the most important results of the meeting was the “23 Anies-Sandi Working Promises”, he said.
“We conducted a survey to know what should be the most important working promises in terms of their compatibility with the Jakarta people’s needs,” he said.
“The survey found that here are the three main focuses of the campaign: employment, education and cost of living.”
Based on the survey’s results, the Anies-Sandi team created campaign gimmicks that emphasised not only the importance of Anies-Sandi’s main messages but the campaign’s attractiveness as well.
One of them was the clever and catchy “Oke Oce” (One Kecamatan, or district, One Centre for Entrepreneurships) that appealed to a broad range of voters.
“Based on my experiences in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election, the more simple and personal the message, the stronger and more effective the message,” Eep said.
“Oke Oce, along with other gimmicks, was put in exactly the same position in 2017 as the icon of the campaign.”
In a commentary titled “Clenching the Wind of Populism in Jakarta” published in Tempo magazine, Eep argued that there was a strong wind of populism during the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election.
Jokowi and Ahok, he wrote, won the race as they managed to catch the breeze.
“The couple offered simple and personal work commitments, directly answering to the needs that were developing during those times. They both, especially Jokowi, were seen as the answer to the needs of many Jakartans,” he said.
“The people needed a different type of politician and public official.
“Voters could no longer accept officials who kept their distance from the people. They wanted leaders who could and would blend in, be commoners, be familiar just like the boy next door.”
Instead of decreasing, Eep argued that in 2017 the wind of populism blew stronger.
Jakarta voters, he wrote, needed leaders who could provide answers to their needs.
“The more concrete the answers provided by the candidates, the stronger the magnet to attract voters,” he said, adding that Ahok and his supporters failed to perceive the significance of this phenomenon in the 2017 election.
“When I was in Jakarta during the first gubernatorial election, I was told that Anies was actually a moderate Muslim but he changed to being a conservative in the run up the polls. Is this true?” I asked Eep.
“No. That is not true at all. Do you think someone can suddenly change from a moderate Muslim to a radical or conservative one just in the span time of a campaign? I don’t think so,” he said.
“From my point of view, the Ahok-Djarot team has dramatically used the so-called Islamophobia as one of their main political marketing tools.
“In order to do so, they have tried to put Anies as a conservative Muslim to match the political framing they made.”
“What type of governor will Anies be?” I asked.
“Since the beginning of their campaign, Anies and Sandi have focused on three main issues or programmes: jobs, education, cost of living.
“At the same time, they put forward themselves as unifying leaders,” he said.
“I think Anies will be a problem solver and unifying type of leader, which is needed nowadays in Jakarta.”
From the fiery Jakarta gubernatorial election, perhaps Malaysian politicians could learn that it is more effective to focus on the issues closest to people’s hearts, rather than playing up phobias.