On Friday (04/11) a massive demonstration is scheduled to be staged in Jakarta. In this protest rally thousands of people are expected to gather to ventilate their disapproval of incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki Cahaya Purnama (better known as Ahok). The rally is organized by a coalition of Islamic groups including hard-line group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) which has often used violence to achieve their targets. The Muslim groups accuse Ahok of blasphemy by misquoting Quranic verses during a speech in Kepulauan Seribu, off the coast of Jakarta, in early October.
A heavily edited video went viral on social media in which Ahok - a Christian with an ethnic Chinese background - said no one should manipulate verses from the Holy Quran for political gains (the video surfaced one week after he had delivered the speech). He specifically revered to Surah Al-Maidah 51, which is perceived by many Muslims as prohibiting them from voting for non-Muslim leaders. This message angered a portion of the Islamic community who accused Ahok of anti-Islam motives and considered it an insult that Ahok quoted from their holy book. Ahok later apologized to those Muslims who felt offended. However, he emphasized that he had no intention of insulting anyone.
The first anti-Ahok demonstration was held in Jakarta on Friday (14/10), followed by protests in several other Indonesian cities (including Surabaya, East Java, and Bandung) in which Muslim groups demanded a prison sentence for Ahok's blasphemous speech. During these demonstrations there were no violent incidents but especially the one in Jakarta did cause massive traffic jams as well as damage to public parks.
The surface of this heavily edited video and the protests are also assumed to be part of efforts to reduce Ahok's chances of being reelected as Governor of Jakarta. Originally, Ahok was the Deputy of former Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo. However, when Widodo left his position to run in the 2014 presidential race, Ahok replaced Widodo on the top spot in Jakarta. Being a Christian this caused fierce resistance from certain Islamic groups.
On 15 February 2017 the local people will vote for Jakarta's Governor. Incumbent Governor Ahok joins the race aided by running mate Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat. The two other pairs that run for this position are (1) Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno and (2) Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) and Sylviana Murni. Campaigning for the Jakarta gubernatorial election started on Friday (28/10) and will continue until 11 February 2017.
There is some concern that violence may erupt at Friday's demonstration, particularly because hard-line group Islamic Defenders Front is involved. Said Aqil Siroj, Chairman of the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia (Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU), suspects that the demonstration will not only be aimed at expressing resentment toward Ahok, but will also include sentiments regarding the social unrest in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Jakarta Police Deputy Chief Brigadier General Suntana said police will deploy about 7,000 personnel to safeguard the rally on Friday (04/11).
On Monday (31/10) President Joko Widodo visited Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) Prabowo Subianto in Bogor. Both men were engaged in a fierce battle to become Indonesia's seventh president in the first half of 2014, a race narrowly won by Widodo. It is assumed that Widodo visited the Gerindra party chairman in an attempt to calm things down ahead of the demonstration on Friday. Gerindra remains a significant force within the political domain of Indonesia being the third-largest political party in the 2014 legislative election. This party is also slightly more Islam-oriented compared to Widodo's PDI-P or Golkar.
Indeed, Indonesian media reported that - after meeting Widodo - Subianto called for this week's planned mass rally against Ahok to be peaceful. Reportedly, Widodo also scheduled a meeting with Islamic group leaders on Tuesday (01/11) to further calm things down.