Hardline Islamists have sought to unseat Ahok who is both Christian and of Chinese descent, making him two minorities in a mostly Muslim, Malay country. These radicals have staged frequent rallies against him and deriding him as a infidel. While there are some who claim it is sinful for Muslims to vote for a non-believer, others like Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organizations, condemn such talk. Fortunately, according to a recent survey, voters seem to care more about Ahok’s efforts to curb Jakarta’s notorious floods, traffic jams, and spur the local economy than they do about his race or religion.
09/29/2016 Indonesia (The Economist) – Many pundits have predicted that the race to become the next governor of Jakarta will be an especially nasty one, fraught with racial and religious discord. It began harmoniously enough on September 24th, the day after the deadline to register as a candidate, with all three contenders and their running-mates smiling and laughing as they posed together for a photo. But the front-runner, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known to all as Ahok, is both Christian and of Chinese descent—and thus a member of two tiny minorities in a mostly Muslim, Malay country. How voters will respond is anyone’s guess.
Ahok is already governor (in effect, mayor) of Indonesia’s teeming capital, a city of about 10m people. He had been deputy governor, but won an automatic promotion when his predecessor, Joko Widodo, stood down to run for president in 2014. That means he has never faced the voters at the top of a ticket, only as the running-mate of Jokowi, as the president is known, during the previous election for governor in 2012.
As recently as 1998 hundreds of ethnic Chinese were raped and killed in riots in Jakarta. Christians have been the victims of pogroms elsewhere in the country in recent years too. Were Ahok to secure his own mandate in the upcoming elections, which are scheduled for February 15th, it would be startling and heartening proof of Indonesians’ open-mindedness.
Throughout Ahok’s four years in office hardline Islamists have sought to unseat him, staging frequent rallies against him (one is pictured on the right) and deriding him as a “kafir”, or infidel. But his blunt speech and impatience with pettifogging bureaucrats have won over many in Jakarta. A recent survey by Poltracking, a local pollster, put his approval rating at a towering 69%. Voters seem to care more about his efforts to curb Jakarta’s notorious floods and traffic jams and spur the local economy than they do about his race or religion. Evan Laksmana of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Jakarta, says they realise that they will end up “paying the price” of poorer municipal services if they elect a leader on a sectarian basis.
The campaign for governor seems to be following a similar pattern. Amien Rais, a former speaker of parliament, recently labelled Ahok a “false prophet”, only to be shouted down by various Islamic authorities. At a gathering at Jakarta’s biggest mosque, several speakers claimed it was “haram”, or sinful, for Muslims to vote for a non-believer. But Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisations (formerly headed by Mr Rais, as it happens) swiftly condemned such talk.