OPINION: Rise of religious forces in Indonesia
By Editorial Desk
21 April 2017

KUALA LUMPUR (Sin Chew Daily / ANN) - The second round of Jakarta Governor election has ended. Chinese Christian Governer Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is also known as “Ahok” failed in his attempt to seek re-election. He lost to Anies Baswedan.

Despite the election committee will only announce the official results in May, based on quick calculation by media and public poll agencies, Anies bagged 58% of votes, defeating Basuki who only polled 42% of votes. Basuki has conceded defeat and congratulated Anies.

In the preliminary round of election held in February, Basuki was leading in a three corner battle. However, as he received less than 50% of the votes and was unable to be directly elected. A second round of election is required to have another round with Anies, who secured second highest votes. Analysts have pointed out then that second round of election would be infavourable to Basuki as voters who opposed Basuki would vote for Anies.

As it turned out, Basuki lost in the second poll.

While the governor election has concluded but its impact and influence would be subjected to further observation. It is not a simple governor election but run up to the presidential election in 2019. Basuki is an ally to current Indonesian president Joko Widodo. His defeat adds shade to Joko’s plan to seek re-election.

During the campaign, Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto who fully supported Anies, is now not ruling out to challenge Jokowi for presidency in 2019 the second time. Despite Jokowi is still popular among the public, Basuki’s defeat has rung the alarm revealing that one should not undermine the opposition force.

Another point worth paying attention is that the governor’s election was held in an intense and tight atmosphere, described as the most polarized and divisive election due to religious factors. Prior to election, the Muslim hard liners claimed Basuki has committed blasphemy against Quran. Huge protests were organized which has impacted the governor’s election where he was finally cut off from retaining the position.

The election is also seen as a test for religious and racial tolerance in Indonesia. Basuki has failed to seek re-election. This indicates the rise of religious power. The force is further encouraged by Anies’ victory. It will expand quickly, becoming a threat to Indonesia’s diversity and tolerance.

Riding on the trend, the surge of religious hardliners is not a welcoming sign in Indonesia.

Indonesia, on its reform path, needs more moderation voice but not extreme shouts which hamper development.

Jakarta Governor election is already over. Voters have made their choice. The information needs attention. How to curb the widespread of religious radicals? This is a herculean challenge that Joko is unable to avoid.

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