Islamists flex muscles in huge Jakarta rally

About 100,000 mark protests that ousted former Christian governor, call goes out to vote against Widodo
Islamists flex muscles in huge Jakarta rally

Thousands of Islamists gather at the National Monument in Jakarta on Dec. 2 for a rally to mark the second anniversary of a protest that led to the jailing of the city's former Christian governor. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari, ucanews.com)

Tens of thousands of Islamists gathered in Indonesia's capital on Dec. 2 to mark the second anniversary of a mass protest that led to the downfall of Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

To many observers the gathering was a show of force by conservative groups flexing their muscles ahead of upcoming presidential and legislative polls.

It also underscored how some politicians are increasingly aligning with more extremist and conservative elements and using religion to further their electoral purposes.

An estimated 100,00 Muslims, mostly hardliners dressed in white and carrying Islamic flags converged on the national monument in Jakarta for the so-called "212 Reunion" rally.

The "212" refers to Dec. 2, 2016 when thousands of Muslim hardliners first gathered for a series of rallies to demand that Purnama, known as Ahok, be arrested for blasphemy.

Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Protestant, was later sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Quran.

Organizers of this year's rally issued a call for Muslims to shun political parties and those who supported Purnama in the 2017 governor election.

Many of these supporters are also supporting the country's president, Joko Widodo, who is standing for a second term in an election in April next year and who has long had strained ties with hard-line groups.

"It is forbidden for us to vote for presidential and legislative candidates backed by parties supporting a blasphemer," Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, the self-exiled leader of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front told the crowd in a phone message from Saudi Arabia.

Shihab fled Indonesia in May last year after being accused of sharing pornographic material in WhatsApp chats with a female activist.

"We must fight together for a change in the 2019 presidential and legislative elections," said Shihab.

Widodo's main rival Prabowo Subianto, an ultranationalist former general who has forged closer ties with conservative groups attended the event.

He gave a short speech thanking organizers for inviting him, but refrained from electioneering, which has been banned in and around the National Monument by the country's election commission.

Jakarta's present governor Anies Baswedan, who defeated Purnama in the 2017 election, also attended the gathering.

Sutarjad, one of the thousands at the rally said he has longed for a president who "really defends Islam,"

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"We've been ignored so far. I hope we can reach one goal which is vote in a better president," he told ucanews.com.

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