Moderate Muslims decry new anti-Ahok rally

Latest protest against Jakarta's Christian governor fails to attract the high numbers as in previous gatherings
Moderate Muslims decry new anti-Ahok rally

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as 'Ahok' talks to media after he casts his vote in Jakarta on Feb. 15, 2017. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

Indonesia’s largest Muslim group has denounced a recent rally by hardliners against Jakarta’s Christian incumbent governor, calling their use of religious intolerance an affront to the democratic process ahead of a governor run-off poll later this month.

About 10,000 people gathered in Jakarta on March 31, according to police estimates, much lower than the estimated 100,000 people who attended rallies late last year against governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok.

At the rally, organized by the Islamic People's Forum, demonstrators denounced the Christian governor and called on voters not to vote for a non-Muslim.

Ahok faces former education minister, Anies Rasyd Baswedan, a Muslim in the April 19 run-off.

Ahok, currently on trial for blasphemy charges, has repeatedly come under attack by hardliners who accused him of insulting the Quran in an election speech in October last year.

Their critics say they are using religious sentiment to derail his re-election hopes despite the governor having won praise for policies he adopted during his term in office.

Moderate Muslims however, condemned the use of religion to try and sway voters.

Said Aqil Siroj, chairman of Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islam organization said the rallies "will only portray a negative image of Islam."

"I regret that religion is being used to try and beat other candidates," he said. "God should not be invited to campaign in the election," he said.

According to one of the protesters politics has nothing to do with it.

"He has hurt us by insulting the Quran," Jafar Muhamad from East Jakarta said.

"It has nothing to do with his leadership as governor, this is about faith," he said.

Religious and political tensions have been running high ahead of the run-off.

Recent opinion polls have Ahok trailing Baswedan, with political experts acknowledging this it was being influenced by the use of religious sentiments.

Pollster Indonesian Survey Circle had Ahok on 40 percent, while Baswedan was leading with 49 percent. Another pollster, the Indonesian Survey Institute, had Ahok on 39.7 percent, and Baswedan on 46.3 percent.

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Arbi Sanit, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia said he remained confident Ahok can still win the election.

"I see, people in Jakarta still have the capacity to determine who is the best candidate," he said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta has called on all eligible Catholics to vote in the upcoming poll.

"Considering the importance of the run-off for the nation’s future, I call on Catholics to make time for this by exercising their right to vote," he said in a letter seen by ucanews.com.

"In exercising their rights to vote, Catholics must focus on the nation and its diversity," he added, referring to Indonesia’s secular constitution.

Indonesia has six recognized religions — Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism — and about 200 traditional beliefs. It also has at least 1,300 ethnic groups.

Data from the Central Statistics Agency shows the country has a total population of 237.6 million. In Jakarta province alone, Muslims comprise 8.2 million, while Protestants and Catholics comprise more than 720,000 and 303,000 respectively.  

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