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Indonesia's Ahok hits the comeback trail

Jakarta's former Christian governor to head anti-graft efforts in country's largest state-owned company

Indonesia's Ahok hits the comeback trail

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (left) with his supporters during the Jakarta governor election in February 2017. (ucanews photo)

Published: November 25, 2019 10:08 AM GMT

Jakarta’s former Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has returned to public office in Indonesia two years after being ousted and convicted on blasphemy charges.  

He has been named as president commissioner at state-owned oil company Pertamina in what is being seen as a huge turnaround for the former governor, popularly known as Ahok, who was freed from prison in January after serving a two-year sentence.

Announcing the appointment on Nov. 22, Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Erick Thohir said Purnama’s appointment was part of an effort to make radical changes at Indonesia’s largest company.

Pertamina is often criticized for having ineffective bureaucracy and being riddled with corruption.

In September, Bambang Irianto, the former managing director of its trading arm, was named a suspect in a graft case linked to oil trading.

As the head of the company’s board of commissioners, Purnama, an ally of President Joko Widodo, will supervise and advise the board of directors.

As Jakarta governor, he was widely credited with taking a hard line against bureaucratic corruption. However, his outspokenness and his religion made him vulnerable to attack by Islamist groups.

He was jailed for two years for blasphemy in 2017 after a series of sectarian rallies by Muslim conservatives who demanded he be prosecuted for “blasphemous” speeches ahead of a Jakarta gubernatorial election.

The accusations played a major role in his defeat, which observers said was marked by deep polarization and religious tensions.

Yohanis Fransiskus Lema, a lawmaker from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, welcomed the appointment, saying Purnama was a person who could be relied upon to try and uphold public morals.

"I'm sure he will bring changes to Pertamina. His straightforward and transparent style is tailor-made for the job,” said Lema, who was formerly Purnama’s spokesman.

Surprisingly, Awit Masyhur, chairman of the 212 Alumni Brotherhood, also backed the move, saying they had no problem with the appointment. The group orchestrated the series of rallies that helped bring about Purnama’s downfall.

"The only important thing is that he does not touch on the issue of religion which hurts the sentiments of people," he said. 

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