Embattled Christian governor wins election in Indonesia
Indonesia | Incumbent still faces an April runoff election and an ongoing blasphemy trial
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 2/16/17, 01:00 pm
Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly called Ahok, narrowly won the first round of the most heated gubernatorial election in Indonesia despite being on trial for blasphemy. Two Muslims ran against him for the seat.
Ahok won 43 percent of the vote in the Feb. 15 contest, CNBC reported. Since no candidate won more than 50 percent, there will be a runoff election in April between Ahok and former education minister Anies Rasyid Baswedan, who finished in second place, according to Al-Jazeera.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed Ahok to the governorship after his own 2014 electoral victory. Ahok is a Christian and the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta. He enjoyed tremendous popularity until Muslim hardliners accused him of blasphemy last year.
The allegations came during the campaign after a heavily edited video of Ahok’s speech in the Thousand Islands area north of Jakarta went viral. The video appeared to show Ahok criticizing a verse from the Quran although he actually criticized political opponents for “incorrectly” applying the verse by telling Muslims they could not vote for a non-Muslim.
Opponents rallied against the governor in November and December, calling for him to resign and be jailed for blasphemy. Others called for his death even though the crime does not carry that sentence in Indonesia.
Ahok’s trial began in December. In mid-February, witnesses testified that no one who heard the speech in person “objected or protested,” according to The Straits Times.
“Not a single resident from the Thousand Islands region filed a complaint; they see no problem,” defense attorney Humphrey Djemat said.
Three men, Ibnu Baskoro, Iman Sudirman, and Muhammad Asroi Saputra, originally reported the governor for blasphemy, according to The Jakarta Post. Twice the men failed to appear in court when they were scheduled to testify against Ahok.
Early in the trial, the governor said he was “very saddened that I have been accused of insulting Islam because this accusation is the same as saying that I am insulting my adoptive parents and siblings.”
The 10th hearing in the blasphemy trial took place just two days before the election, but a verdict is not expected for weeks. The ongoing trial and protests against Ahok prompted many to view the election as a fight between Indonesia’s prized secularism and tolerance and competing desires for Islamic rule.
Asia Sentinel reported the election was a “Battle for [the] Country’s Soul,” a BBC headline suggested it was testing “Indonesian identity,” and The New York Times called it a “test of tolerance for Indonesia.”
NPR reported that Ahok was “happy that history” chose him for this debate.
Indonesia officially recognizes six religions and allows people to choose among them and worship according to their beliefs. Its constitution, however, makes it illegal to insult or defame a religion. The maximum penalty is five years in prison, and few people beat charges of blasphemy.
Julia A. Seymour
Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.