Leaders of hard-line Islamic groups in Indonesia have called on Muslims to only vote for co-religionists in elections for public office. The rationale was that not electing non-Muslims would improve the implementation of Islamic teachings. On Dec. 2 about 40,000 Muslims from Jakarta and West Java gathered to commemorate a rally held a year ago targeting former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian also known as Ahok. Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy after challenging claims that the Quran required Muslims to be led only by fellow Muslims. He essentially claimed that the Quranic verse at the center of the row was misinterpreted by his Muslim electoral opponents. The Dec. 2 commemorative rally was coordinated by various Muslim groups including the Islamic Defenders Front, which claims 7 million members. The aim was to promote Muslim leaders ahead of 2018 provincial, district and municipal elections as well as a presidential election due in 2019. Various speakers called on voters to seek advice from Muslim clerics before casting ballots. "Now Indonesia is in need of more Islamic leaders from national to regional levels, who can defend Islam and make sure that Islamic teachings are applied," Ahmad Sobri Lubis, chairman of the Islamic Defenders Front, told ucanews.com after the event. "We don't want people like Ahok to lead." However, some radical Muslims have criticized Indonesian President Joko Widodo for targeting groups who are religiously intolerant, including by banning
the militant Hizbut Tahrir group. Slamet Ma'arif, a coordinator of the 2016 anti-Ahok rally, also expressed frustration with the present government, even though a Muslim leads it. "Muslims have been fragmented and only good Muslim leaders can unite them, by putting forward Islamic teaching," he said. "I believe that can overcome the nation's problems." Meanwhile, Islamic Defenders Front fugitive leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab
, who has been in exile in Saudi Arabia since Indonesian police named him as a primary suspect in a sex scandal, could only greet his supporters via a video teleconference.
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"Let's fight for an Indonesia that is based on sharia," he said when referring to Islamic law that can entail severe punishments for perceived wrongdoing. "That's the only way to save the country and protect its religions from blasphemy and harassment." Mitha Aulia, 23, a former member of dissolved Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, said she joined the rally because she was disappointed with Widodo for disbanding her group. "I'm here to show concern that Indonesia is in desperate need of a leader who can unite all Muslims," she told ucanews.com.
However, Mafud, 21, a Muslim student who participated in the rally, said not all Muslims agreed with the calls to elect only Muslim leaders. "We need leaders who can advance Indonesia, no matter what religion he belongs to," he said. Bonie Hargens, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, said the rally on Dec.2 was politically motivated to target Widodo. "After Ahok, now they aim for President Joko Widodo," he said, adding that their calling on Muslims to vote only for Muslim leaders is their right. "This is a democratic country," he said. "They are welcome to determine their own candidates or even to establish a political party."