Thousands of hardline Muslims gathered at Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque on Saturday (11/02) to protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok). Protesters accuse Ahok - a Christian of Chinese descent - of blasphemy (insulting Islam) based on a manipulated video in which he expressed inappropriate language that surfaced on social media in October 2016. The protest, locally called "Aksi 112" (Action of 11 February) is the fourth anti-Ahok protest over the past five months and has strong political motives.
On Wednesday 15 February 2017 (a day that is declared a holiday for Jakarta's community) the people of Indonesia's capital city will vote for the new governor. Religious and ethnic tensions are high as we approach perhaps the most divisive gubernatorial elections in the capital to date. The main issue is that the conservative and hardline Muslim community in Indonesia disapproves of having a non-Muslim leader in a Muslim-majority community. Ahok, who enjoys popularity among Jakarta's big middle class segment, has serious chances to win this election.
Ahok is currently the Jakarta governor. However, he was not elected by the people. In Jakarta's 2012 gubernatorial election, Joko Widodo was elected Jakarta governor with Ahok as deputy. However, after Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) decided to participate (and won) the 2014 presidential election, Ahok, by law, replaced Widodo as Jakarta governor. Both Jokowi and Ahok enjoy popularity in Indonesia as they have a similar style: swift action, reform-minded, non-corrupt, and not afraid to use the "no pain, no gain" principle (for example force a local community to move in order to develop much-needed infrastructure or power plants that will benefit a much larger community; such decisions trigger claims of human rights abuses and can be used by political opponents to harm the image of both Jokowi and Ahok).
The protest at Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque is one that is politically motivated. Therefore, Ahok's opponents in the gubernatorial election are present at this occasion: (1) Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono - son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - and (2) former education minister Anies Baswedan, in an apparent attempt to secure the votes of Jakarta's conservative and hardline community on election day.
Former president Yudhoyono has also been eager to create chaos over the past couple of weeks by organizing press conferences and using social media to ventilate his claims that the current administration of Indonesia is unjust in its law enforcement efforts, that certain groups have intercepted his private phone conversations, and that his request to meet Jokowi was blocked. Many Indonesians would liked to have seen such passion from Yudhoyono during his ten years as head of state (rather than being indecisive and simply relying on economic growth that was largely triggered by the 2000s commodities boom).
The demonstration at Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque on Saturday (11/02) is organized by the Forum of Muslims (FUI), a coalition that exists of conservative Islamic groups. Initially, it wanted to conduct a street march but local authorities banned this rally because it was considered "disruptive" several days before election day. Therefore, the protest is confined to the Istiqlal mosque compound.
After three gubernatorial debates (and a lot of press attention), local polls and surveys seem to indicate that Ahok is leading the race. However, it is expected there is also a large number of still undecided swing (floating) voters.