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Indonesia: Christian governor loses election, concedes defeat

20 April 2017

Christian governor loses election, concedes defeat

In a shocking result, Jakarta's Christian Governor, Basuki Cahaya Purnama (known as Ahok), has lost his governorship to Muslim, Anies Baswedan.

Ahok - who was awarded Asia's Best Governor in 2015 by Globe Asia Magazine - congratulated his opponent and in a televised news conference said: "We now will come together and forget this campaign. Jakarta is home for all of us."

Indonesians expressed their surprise at the result on social media, comparing the outcome with the shock results of the US elections and Brexit.

His rival, a former education minister, is reported to have won 58 per cent of the votes. Official results will be announced early next month.

"God gives the authority and so God alone can take it back," said Ahok to his supporters, after the quick count which confirmed that he lost. "No one is allowed to rule without God's permission. I once lost in the governor's election in 2007, but then I could still become Jakarta's governor. So don't be sad, God knows best."

Blasphemy accusation and opposition from Muslim hardliners

Despite having a strong supporter base and winning the first round of voting in February, Ahok (who belongs to two minority groups, being both a Christian and of Chinese descent) has faced fierce opposition from Muslim hardliners.

His leadership was seriously challenged after Ahok accused his political opponents of misusing Quranic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him (as a Christian).

Large crowds of hardliners, including one rally 100,000-strong in November last year, in which one protestor died, demanded a case of blasphemy be brought against him.

Ahok has since been brought to trial for blasphemy under 156 and 156a of the Penal Code - a case which he is still defending. Yesterday morning, his blasphemy trial continued with the prosecutor demanding a sentence of one year's imprisonment, with two years' probation.

What was surprising in this development is that the prosecutor did not use the original charge under Penal Code 156a for blasphemy (the accusation which had resulted in multiple mass protests against Ahok). Instead, he is now charged under Penal Code 156 for 'expressing hostile feelings or hatred towards a particular group'. In this case, the particular group referred to are his political opponents.

A victim of racist and religious attack

Muslims make up more than 80 per cent of Indonesia's expansive population, and the election has been seen as a test of Indonesia's secular identity.

Earlier this month, during a court appearance to deal with the blasphemy allegations, Ahok said he had been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005.

And at his first trial back in December 2016, the former statesman expressed: "Our founding fathers created the nation as a secular republic based on the concept of 'unity in diversity', but they want to force the implementation of Islamic law. How come? So, I'm happy that history chose me for this position. I am not afraid of losing my position for doing what is right."

Indonesia ranks as number 46 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. It hosts the world's largest Muslim population, the majority of which practises moderate Islam. However, fundamentalism has been on the rise, causing Christians and other religious minorities to be more vulnerable to false accusations and injustice in law enforcement.

Source: Open Doors; World Watch Monitor

Please pray:

  • For Ahok and other Indonesians who may be disapointed or concerned about this result
  • That God would bless Anies Baswedan in his new role
  • That this seeming victory for hardliners will not usher in a start of religious-based attacks against the Christian minority
  • That Ahok would know God's comfort and guidance during his ongoing trial for blasphemy.

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Find out more about persecution in Indonesia.