Using Religion for Political Campaign, Why Not?
Pramudya A Oktavinanda
For a couple of weeks, we have been bombarded by news on the use — or misuse — of religion as a part of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election campaign. Even the Islamic Council of Ulema’s (MUI) Jakarta branch joined the fray by issuing a fatwa that people have the obligation to choose their leaders based on their religion.
This, of course, attracts a lot of comments. Some view such attempt as stupid or hypocrite, others view it as acceptable and necessary in accordance with their religious practice.
From political and economics point of view, using this strategy seems rational. Like it or not, this is a sensitive issue where opinions might be fairly distributed between the pros and cons. If you can use it to gain more voters from certain side, why not?
But, from legal point of view, should we prohibit the use of this strategy? I don’t think so. Not only that it would be a very paternalistic policy, there are hundreds of other reasons that can be used by a candidate to attack other candidates. Why should we pay more attention to religion?
I don’t think it would be efficient for governmental authorities to prohibit issues that can be discussed and used in a political campaign. It would be costly and we would have difficulties in justifying the reasons. Do we have a rational reason to do so or is it merely a problem of taste?
If we can say to other people that they should not vote for stupid people, why couldn’t we do the same for religion?
What I think that is most important in a political campaign is candidates must speak the truth and only the truth. This is to ensure that there is no misleading information in the campaign and the democratic process can work smoothly.
This means that political candidates can say and encourage people to vote solely based on religion or ideology or ethnicity. That would be acceptable as long as they don’t commit fraud or hide material information. An example: Spreading bad rumors about the other candidate who has a different religion or ideology that he is planning to destroy the voters once elected without any solid evidence.
I understand that looking at such a shallow political campaign might shock some of us. How could people blatantly accept that kind of campaign? But this is a part of democracy and freedom of speech. It is an inherent risk in a society whose people are not mature enough to focus on political programs instead of trivial things.
But don’t be disappointed too much, because we can still find this joke even in a country like United States. I know that some people there — albeit minority — believe that Barack Obama is actually an Islamic agent with a mission to destroy the United States.
While the rumor is of course laughable and wrong, it shows that religious sentiments still hold certain power in a first world country. Honestly speaking, I don’t think that United States citizens would be ready to accept a Muslim as their president.
In a case like this, my recommendation would always be: fight idea with idea. If some political candidates say that religious aspect should be considered as the decisive factor in voting, other candidates must show that such idea is bad and encourage voters to do otherwise.
Later on, the market of information will eventually determine the winner of the election. And from such information we can also see whether Indonesian people still take religion issues seriously or not.
If we still want to punish these political candidates, punish those who spread false information because they might cause baseless distortion in the market which would create losses to all of us. However, how they want to shape the language of their own campaign, including choosing the ideas to discuss, should not be our concern.