Indonesians Ready to Cast Their Votes

By Gina Goh

04/17/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Today, the fourth most populous country and the third largest democracy in the world, will elect its leader for the next five years. Christians in the Muslim-majority Indonesia are not only praying for a peaceful election, they also are longing for a president who will continue to defend the Pancasila, the philosophical basis of the Indonesian state intended to alleviate religious tension and promote pluralism.

In recent years, the rise of Islam extremism in the country, along with the emergence of ISIS, has claimed more than 50 lives and wounded hundreds. Local ISIS-linked terrorist groups have targeted churches, police stations, and tourist attractions to intimidate communities and impose their version of Islam. The suicide bombings targeting three churches in Surabaya last year marked the country’s worst terrorist attack in a decade, killing dozens.

At a grassroots level, radical Muslims mobilize their communities to threaten, harass, or criminalize people of other faiths with the country’s blasphemy law. As noted by Andreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Jakarta, the country is “now going down the Pakistan route. There are more and more political manipulations using the blasphemy law, and there are more and more discriminatory regulations against minorities in Indonesia.”

Against this backdrop, in addition to concerns such as economic policies, improvement of infrastructure, and reduction of corruption, the issue of religious identity remains a core interest to the country’s 24 million Christians.

During his last term, incumbent candidate President Joko Widodo (commonly referred to as “Jokowi”) disappointed many when he allowed one of his closest allies, former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, to fall victim to Indonesia’s blasphemy law. The former governor was subsequently imprisoned for two years for “insulting [the] Qu’ran.”

“There are more and more political manipulations using the blasphemy law, and there are more and more discriminatory regulations against minorities in Indonesia.”

In order to win the support of Islamic hardliners in the election, he picked a conservative Muslim cleric, Amin Ma’ruf, as his running mate. This former chairman of the influential Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) was instrumental in the imprisonment of Basuki.

Prabowo Subianto, the challenger in this election, claims that he believes in “an Indonesia that is multi-racial and multi-religious,” and has denied allegations that he is backed by radical Muslims seeking to establish a caliphate in secular Indonesia. However, the presence of hardline Islamist organizations and individuals at all of his rallies contradicts his statement.

When asked about her choice for this election, Lily Tobing, a Christian radio station manager in Makassar, told ICC, “My primary choice is Jokowi, who is a patient person and slow to anger. His works [in past years] have been proven. Indonesia needs a person like this. He loves peace.” She added, “With regards to Prabowo, all his words sound like he is always ready to fight others, always threatening. He is far removed from being peaceful.”

A madrassa student who is supportive of Prabowo, told South China Morning Post, “I want a leader who can strengthen Islam in Indonesia, so we will have more blessings from [God].” The 23-year-old added, “I believe that Indonesia will be more Islamic under Prabowo-Sandiaga as Prabowo has said that he is willing to receive the mandate from Ulema. Jokowi is not as Islamic [as Prabowo].”

While most of the Christians in the country, specifically those who are ethnic Chinese, are likely to vote for Jokowi for his relatively moderate stance on increasing Islamic influence, those who favor the amalgamation of state and Islam are eyeing for Prabowo’s victory. Regardless of the result, we must pray for the future leader of Indonesia to respect and defend religious freedom and human rights, so that Christians in Indonesia can freely practice their faith without fear.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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