Indonesia needs to keep religious influence out of election

By Yu Ning Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/12 23:48:39

There has been worry that rising right-wing Islamic political activism may cloud Jakarta ahead of heated gubernatorial elections. Over the past few months, demonstrations have been continually staged by Muslim protesters against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian candidate running for re-election as Jakarta's governor, for his alleged insults against the Koran. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Indonesians held mass prayers at a national mosque, urging voters to reject Basuki in Wednesday's vote.

Basuki, with his remarkable governance achievements and a lead by wide margins in nearly every poll, was expected to win a second term. However, during a campaign rally last September, he dismissed his opponents who cited a verse of the Koran that warns against Muslims supporting nonbelievers. His opponents immediately accused him of disrespecting Islam's holy book and put him on trial for blasphemy, a charge Basuki disputes in court.

Since 1998 when Indonesia embarked on a journey to democracy, the country has gradually moved toward stable political and religious tolerance. It has been viewed as a beacon of a moderate Muslim nation by the West, but current unrest has raised concerns over the country's future direction. Basuki is an outlier in some sense in a Muslim-majority country. The religious and political mobilization against him will have far-reaching influences on Indonesian politics.   

A worrisome trend in Indonesia instigating religious sentiment to influence public opinion to affect the results of elections is considered to have become more prominent.

Indonesia is confronting the challenge of maintaining social order and avoiding Islamic radicalization by preserving secularism. 

In recent years, as the Islamic State (IS) loses its grip on some territories in the Middle East, it looks toward Southeast Asia to perpetuate its claims to a caliphate. Affecting by IS propaganda, terrorism in Southeast Asia is growing. At the beginning of 2016, a series of explosions rocked Jakarta, with the IS claiming responsibility. The Australian attorney general has warned that it is seeking to establish a "distant caliphate" in Indonesia.

Extreme sentiment is influencing in the whole Islamic world, including Southeast Asia. It's important to ensure the secularism of Muslims in the region and isolate religion from politics. As the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia must be wary of the election being disrupted by the heavily religious demonstrations. It needs to solve the problem under the framework of law.


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