Marguerite Afra Sapiie and Panca Nugraha, Jakarta – West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) Governor Muhammad Zainul Majdi, affectionately known as Tuan Guru Bajang (TGB), may or may not be chosen as President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's running mate for the upcoming presidential race.
But the 46-year-old politician looks set to take center stage in national politics after declaring his support for Jokowi's reelection bid, a shock decision that not only angered his colleagues in the Democratic Party, which has yet to declare support for any presidential contender, but also Islamists who had tapped him as one of Jokowi's strongest challengers.
TGB, who was elected governor in 2008, is set to finish his second and final term in September 2018. His recent decision to officially endorse Jokowi may reflect his readiness to leave local politics and aim for a career in national politics.
Seeing his credentials, the future looks bright for TGB. Here's why:
Influential Muslim leader
TGB, like Jokowi, is widely regarded as a successful regional leader, having managed to bring more tourists and investors to NTB. But he has something that Jokowi lacks: strong credentials as a Muslim leader.
TGB holds a degree in Islamic theology and Qur'anic exegesis from the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the very same school from which several top Islamic thinkers in the country have graduated, including scholar Quraish Shihab and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) cleric Mustofa "Gus Mus" Bisri.
Tuan Guru Haji is an Islamic title given to a master in religious teaching while Bajang means "young" in Sasak, the local language of NTB, where TGB was born and raised.
He is also the head of Nahdlatul Wathan, an Islamic group in NTB, and currently leads Al-Azhar Alumni International Organization (OIAA), the Indonesian chapter of the World Organization for Al-Azhar graduates.
As a scholar, TGB often preaches in other Indonesian provinces, building a national rapport. He has continuously promoted the values of moderate Islam, or Wasathiyyatul Islam, which he himself refers to as a guidance or ideology adopted by Al-Azhar graduates in mainstreaming Islamic moderation within Indonesia's pluralist society.
As a former supporter of Gerindra Party chief Prabowo Subianto, TGB had gained traction among Islamists critical of Jokowi. His defection has triggered a backlash, with some of his supporters accusing him of betraying the Muslim community.
The scholar took to his official Instagram account to defend his decision. "Do you dare to say that you are haq [truthful] while your political opponents are bathil [false], similar to the infidel Quraysh? Who dares say so? I don't dare," TGB told his audience during a sermon in a video uploaded on July 6.
The way to cope with political differences was to learn and fulfill each other in the concept of fastabiqul khairat or "race each other in all things that are good," he said.
"Please stop quoting the verses that speak of war in the Quran during political contests. We are not at war, we are [united] as one nation and [we must] complement each other in kindness."
TGB was elected twice as NTB governor in 2008 and 2013, first with the Crescent Star Party and second with the Democratic Party. Prior to serving as governor, TGB served as a lawmaker on the House of Representatives Commission X.
Many have applauded TGB for his progress in economic, social and tourism development, as well as promoting the practice of good governance during his two terms.
Under his leadership, NTB took home the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) award five years in a row from 2011 to 2015 for its progress and achievement in alleviating poverty, reducing child and maternal mortality, as well as improving education and literacy.
He also implemented transparency in local government in a bid to eradicate corruption, including by requiring all officials who had control over public funds, down to the most junior level, to submit official wealth reports.
"Transparency should start with government officials themselves. If the people could increase their faith in them, public participation would begin," TGB said during a panel presentation at the Asia Pacific Leaders Forum (APLF) on Open Government in December.
NTB has gained several awards for tourism and transparency under his leadership. Last year, the province also received an award for best performance and good governance based on the assessment of the Institute for Public Governance (IIPG).
It is expected that TGB will retain the support of the NTB people. On Monday, hundreds of public figures and clerics in the province held a rally to support TGB in endorsing President Jokowi for a second term.
"Endorsing Jokowi to be reelected as president is a very realistic decision, considering the central government's massive, ongoing efforts in developing NTB," NTB Youth Movement chairman Muhammad Sukro said.
A potential VP candidate
In the current political climate, observers say that TGB's image as a respected Muslim scholar could help burnish Jokowi's own Islamic credentials and boost the President's electability among more conservative Muslim voters.
While Jokowi himself is a Muslim, his political opponents and staunch critics often label him as anti-Islamic and at one point rumors were spread that he was a Christian and was accused of being affiliated to the defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
"Should TGB be touted [as Jokowi's vice president], the stigma that attaches to Jokowi as being anti-Islamic can be reduced to a certain extent," said Djayadi Hanan, a political observer from Jakarta-based Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC).
In a survey by SMRC released on July 5, TGB is placed among the top figures favored by political elites, opinion formers and the public. The others include former Constitutional chief justice Mahfud MD and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
When asked recently about the possibility of running with Jokowi, TGB said, "It's the President's prerogative." He added that there were other senior figures of more prominence including Mahfud and Golkar Party chairman Airlangga Hartarto.
During a recent visit to the office of The Jakarta Post, TGB said he was ready to run for election. "Anyone has to be ready." Regardless of Jokowi's decision, TGB's political journey is unlikely to end soon. (ahw)