Jakarta vote winner must repair damage

Anies Baswedan shamelessly used Islam to claim the governorship of Indonesia’s capital from the incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian. In doing so, Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance and pluralism has suffered

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:45pm

Anies Baswedan shamelessly used Islam to win Jakarta’s governorship in bitterly fought elections. As he declared victory last Thursday, his rival and the incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian popularly known as Ahok, appeared in court to face blasphemy charges. Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance and pluralism has suffered. The incoming leader’s priority when he takes the helm of the nation’s capital has to be to heal the divisions that have been created.

After election defeat, Jakarta’s ethnic-Chinese governor may escape jail in blasphemy trial

A moderate Muslim, Baswedan is a respected academic and former minister. But during the election campaign, he allied himself with the controversial Islamist group, the Islamic Defenders Front. It seized on a video that appeared on the internet of Purnama delivering a statement that was claimed to blaspheme the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and organised huge rallies seeking his prosecution. Police subsequently stepped in and laid charges. In a bid to prevent the Christian politician from being elected, voters in the Muslim-majority nation were told by the Islamists that only a Muslim should be allowed to hold public office.

Purnama went through to the second round of voting, but lost despite being widely acknowledged as being among the best administrators Jakarta has ever had. The preferred choice of President Joko Widodo, he was tipped to be a future national leader. But such ambitions have been dashed and he now faces the possibility of jail. No one charged with blasphemy in Indonesia over the past 12 years has been acquitted.

What’s driving anti-Ahok Muslims to Jakarta’s polls?

Indonesia respects six religions and its national motto is “unity in diversity”. Purnama was a shining example of both. But that he was not Muslim became an election issue and the little-used blasphemy law was taken up to ensure he did not stay in office shows a dark side to the country’s politics. A bad precedent could be set for future elections. Baswedan said in his victory speech that he aimed to make Jakarta “the most religiously harmonious province in Indonesia”. For the sake of the city and nation, he has to repair the damage done and fulfil that pledge.