Ominous signs in Jakarta

Ominous signs in Jakarta, an editorial by The Australian.

The success of hardline Islamists in ousting Jakarta’s highly regarded Christian governor raises grave questions about the state of Indonesia’s secular democracy. Potentially, it also has serious implications for President Joko Widodo and his moderate style of leadership. …

Ominously, as Indonesian academic Syamsudin Haris said, the Islamists’ triumph “is a setback for democracy because performance and competence have been beaten by religious stigma”. He fears “identity-infused politics based on religion” increasingly will colour Indonesian elections. As in Sunday’s Turkish referendum, the Jakarta election shows how potent the “politicisation of religion” has become.

The Islamist victors already are making their intentions clear, declaring they want to create “sharia-compliant” entertainment centres in Jakarta, a city of 10 million that is home to more than a million Christians and other minorities.

Only a year ago, [Governor Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, a minority ethnic Chinese] was seen as a popular certainty to win election to the office he stepped into when his ally, Mr Joko, became President in 2014. But his reputation for incorruptible competence was soon targeted as the Islamic Defenders Front brought a highly dubious blasphemy case against him after doctoring a video in which he appeared to criticise the Koran. Ahok was back in court yesterday, facing a possible long jail sentence — a symbol of what is happening in Indonesia. …

The vicious Islamist campaign to get rid of Ahok because he is a Christian who had the temerity to become governor of the capital of the most populous Muslim nation has done Indonesia no good.

Ahok with some voters

Jakarta prosecutors to spare outgoing governor Ahok from jail, by Nivell Rayda.

Indonesian prosecutors have ­recommended Jakarta’s outgoing Christian governor be spared a prison sentence for insulting the Koran and instead serve a two-year probation, sparking an ­immediate backlash from hardline Islamists. …

“This is an insult. This is a sham,” protesters shouted as they walked out of the courtroom ­yesterday.

Outside the makeshift courthouse in South Jakarta, others prayed for the judges to ignore the prosecution’s recommendations and instead hand down a maximum five-year jail term.

“In Islam, the punishment for a blasphemer is death. But we will give the judges a chance. If Ahok is still free, we will take matters into our own hands,” one cleric told a small crowd of protesters, most dressed in white Islamic garb and skullcaps. …

The prosecution argued that Ahok had offended Muslims and clerics who believed that the Koran barred Muslims from electing Christians and Jews as leaders when he said told a group of fishermen that they “are being lied to using (verse) Al Maidah 51”. …

Islamic scholars around the world have been debating the meaning of the verse for centuries but the interpretation that the verse bars Muslims from electing non-Muslims as leaders is widely accepted in Indonesia.

hat-tip Stephen Neil