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Peacemakers or Peace-Breakers?: Provincial Elections and Religious Leadership in Lombok, Indonesia
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Introduction

In August 2007, I attended a meeting convened by NTB1 government officials for police officers, intelligence officials, and non-government activists to address concerns about the upcoming 2008 gubernatorial elections. Halfway through the proceedings, a tense discussion arose, and people became concerned about my presence at the meeting, as “sensitive” matters relating to potential conflict were being discussed. Without being given any opportunity to allay their concerns, or protest my removal, I quickly was escorted from the meeting. I sat outside in the foyer of a Senggigi hotel, where the hotel acoustics fortunately kept me in earshot of the proceedings. I was frustrated by my ejection from the meeting, but the magnitude and difficulties involved in the preparations for the 2008 elections had been brought home to me. Underpinning my removal and the anxiety felt by all participants in the discussion was the fear that during the elections the provincial capital of Mataram, home to the various political party campaign headquarters, could explode into political violence.

Fortunately, violence did not erupt during the 2008 elections, and this raises the question of how conflict was avoided, the answer to which is the foundation of this article. This essay provides a unique perspective on the study of conflict in Indonesia, as most literature to date has investigated situations where communal or political violence has occurred. With the fall of President Suharto in 1998, an event that sparked a wave of violence across Indonesia, including Jakarta, Solo, and Ambon, the study of Indonesian communal and political conflict has become a rich source of literature.2 However, this article inverts the analysis by considering “where violence does not occur.”3 Edward Aspinall has noted the importance of this approach, arguing that

... understanding the structural, contextual, and organizational dynamics of each violent episode is crucial, but if we want to understand overall patterns and develop general models, it is surely equally important to explore those instances where (presumably) mechanisms for peaceful regulation of ethnic and religious inter-group relations worked well.4

Studying the absence of violence is challenging, because violence is often vivid and its effects immediately apparent, while its avoidance is harder to assess definitively. However, if violence is anticipated and yet does not occur, it is useful to investigate why, and what, if any, conflict avoidance mechanisms were applied.5

This article’s direction is supported by the work of Ashutosh Varshney, who has studied places of “ethnic peace” rather than ethnic conflict.6 Varshney’s research investigates several Indian cities and asks why communal and political conflict was avoided or resolved quickly in certain places, while other communities had turned violent. Varshney concludes that, in the Indian context, in places where violence was avoided, networks of professional relationships across ethnic and religious divides were integral to reducing social tensions and could therefore prevent violence from erupting.7 Varshney’s findings are context-specific, but they allude to mechanisms for conflict avoidance that rely on community relationships. The notion that relationships among political, religious, and community actors are key to maintaining peace is also drawn out in this article, and I demonstrate how religious networks have been integral to maintaining social harmony in Lombok.

First, I will discuss particular points of social tension and outbreaks of violence that occurred on the island to assist the reader in understanding anxieties in Lombok about potential election violence. The subsequent two sections center on the influential local religious leaders, Tuan Guru, and their involvement in conflict management during the 2008 elections. These religious leaders and their organizations played a broadly positive role during the elections. Their socio-political role is complex, however, and their actions in the past have sometimes led to violence, particularly in relation to their involvement in the creation of local militia groups and their arguably irresponsible behavior towards minority religious groups (including the Ahmadiyah sect).8 The article then examines, as a case study, the 2008 NTB gubernatorial elections and the conflict-management strategy successfully deployed during that contest.

Lineage of Violence

… we needed to cool our emotions—conflicts will not make us happy …

— Satriawan, Mataram Electoral Commission Member9

As Satriawan’s words, quoted here, suggest, members of...


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