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Christian candidate clocks up votes despite smears

Anti-religious rhetoric overshadows poll

A Jakarta resident casts his vote in the first round in July A Jakarta resident casts his vote in the first round in July
  • Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • September 14, 2012
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Seen as a curtain-raiser for the national elections in 2014, the election of the governor of Jakarta heads for its second round run-off on September 20.

It is a contest that has captivated the nation. But government ministers felt the need this week to appeal for a fair fight, as this campaign will possibly be remembered above all for its negativity.

The candidates are incumbent governor Fauzi Bowo who pairs with Nachrowi Ramli and Joko Widodo, the mayor of Solo, Central Java, who pairs with Basuki Thahaja Purnama.

Purnama is a Chinese Christian who has endured a smear campaign in recent weeks and is routinely heckled at public events.

One of his main tormentors has been Rhoma Irama, a well known singer and preacher. In July, he delivered a stinging anti-Purnama sermon which led to him being investigated by the Jakarta Elections Supervisory Committee.

“I believe in the Qur’an. I just told the truth. It is my job to tell the truth to Muslims,” he told local media. There were some raised eyebrows when the committee ruled that Rhoma had caused no violation, as his sermon was given outside the campaign season.

But the attacks against the non-Muslim candidate did not stop there. Before last month’s Eid celebrations, copies of a pocket book Apa Kata Alquran tentang Memilih Pemimpin? - What Does The Qur’an Say About Choosing Leaders? - were widely distributed.

The book echoes the generally held Muslim clerics’ view that Muslims should not vote for Christian or Jewish leaders.

At the same time, a two-minute video titled Koboy Cina Pimpin Jakarta - Chinese-Indonesian Cowboy Leads Jakarta – was uploaded on YouTube.

The footage aimed to intimidate Chinese-Indonesians in the state capital.

“We, young people who save Jakarta, order all Chinese-Indonesians not to exercise their rights to vote in the second round of the gubernatorial election or….” said a man with a blurred-out face.

The video, which was later taken down, also included images of riots in 1998 when thousands rallied to oust former president Soeharto and targeted properties and business owned by Chinese Indonesians.

During the rioting, more than 1,500 people were reportedly killed and there were more than 80 cases of sexual assault against Chinese-Indonesian girls.

More recently, the Young Jakartans Front blitzed Jakarta with posters which read “Qur’an orders: voting for Muslim leaders is an obligation, voting for non-Muslim leaders is prohibited.”

None of this stopped Purnama’s partnership with Widodo from winning 43 percent of the first ballot in July, indicating a level of popularity that will pose a serious threat to Governor Bowo in the next round.

Ridwan Saidi, who commentates on cultural issues, said religious and ethnic slurs will not affect voters.

“These attacks will generate public sympathy for Jokowi and Purnama,” he said in a television talk show.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, of the Indonesian Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, also believes that the people of Jakarta can be trusted to make their own choice.

“People will choose leaders who have a commitment to uphold justice, humanity, honesty and morality,” he said. “Religion and ethnicity are not an issue anymore.”

These pundits’ opinions seem to be borne out by the research figures. The University of Indonesia’s Center for Political Studies released the results of a poll on Sunday, which said that only 39 percent of respondents considered a candidate’s religion to be a key factor.

The poll also showed that 80 percent of 600 respondents had already decided whom they were going to vote for and would not change their minds before election day.

Related reports

Jakarta election heads toward run off
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