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Minorities cheer Jokowi's Indonesia poll lead

Early indications show Jakarta governor edging to victory

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Minorities cheer Jokowi's Indonesia poll lead

Papuan tribespeople wearing traditional dress cast their ballots in Jayapura on Wednesday (AFP Photo/Liva Lazore)

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Jakarta governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appears to be edging towards victory in Indonesia’s elections today following the release of quick count results by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)-Cyrus Network.

The popular governor, who has consistently led opinion polls in the build-up to the historic elections, is currently in front with 51.9 percent of the vote, while his opponent, former military strongman Prabowo Subianto, has 48.1 percent.

“It’s time for us to monitor the recapitulation of the vote so that everything runs clearly and honestly. There should be no intervention,” Jokowi said at a press conference this afternoon in Jakarta.

About 190 million registered voters went to the polls on Wednesday, from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., to elect a new president. They included religious minority groups, which welcomed the signs of victory for Jokowi.

“His victory gives us hope in our struggle – a chance to enjoy the freedom of religion,” Jalaludin Rakhmat, a Shia Muslim, told ucanews.com. “His presence in the election continues the process of our reform – to stop the model of the New Order regime [under former dictator Suharto] which we toppled in 1998." 

In June, Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to release Shia religious leader Tajul Muluk, who was sent to jail for blasphemy. According to AI, Muluk is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Rakhmat believed that Jokowi will have no challenges in dealing with problems faced by religious minority groups.

“At least, he doesn’t have any moral burden if he wants to take strict action against intolerant groups that in the past has sparked violent acts,” he said, explaining that Prabowo has attracted the support of such intolerant groups.

Jokowi on the other has faced down accusations that he is a Christian, and not Muslim as he claims, and which are believed to have weakened his lead in the build up to the elections.

Reverend Palti Panjaitan, from the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) Filadelfia in Bekasi, West Java, said that Jokowi has proven his track record in addressing the issue of religious intolerance. 

“It makes us say that he can bring a change in the issue. The problem so far is that our president doesn’t have a clear commitment. Indeed, our president said many times that he respected freedom of religion but failed to take concrete actions to address the issue,” he said.

The Batak Protestant Church was forced to close several years ago, even though local courts had permitted its functioning.

For Firdaus Mubarik, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Congregation, restrictions on the freedom to worship have caused angst among the Ahmadiya community.

“Our mosques were closed down and attacked. Our religious activities were dismissed. These cases happened for years but no strict actions were taken by the government,” he said.

In June, a mosque belonging to followers of Ahmadiya in Ciamis district, West Java, was sealed off by local authorities who cited a joint ministerial decree for closing it.

“We hope that Jokowi can handle such a situation. What we want is a president who upholds the diversity. Jokowi has shown it to us, with his words and actions,” he said.

AI’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director Rupert Abbott urged the next president to undertake a thorough assessment of Indonesia’s human rights record over the last decade, in consultation with civil society and other stakeholders.

“The government must repeal all laws and regulations that restrict the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as guaranteed in the Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party,” he said.

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