Blasphemy Controversy Plagues Jakarta Gubernatorial Election


Jakarta, Indonesia, held an election Wednesday to elect a new governor to succeed the current governor who is on trial after being indicted for violating blasphemy laws.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or “Ahok,” is the first Christian and ethnically Chinese governor of Jakarta in the last 50 years, and is currently on trial for insulting Islam after accusing his opponents of using it as a means to mislead the electorate. He was elected in 2014 when then-governor Joko Widodo stepped down from the role to run for president.

Purnama was seen as the clear favorite to win re-election, until he was charged with blasphemy — a criminal offense in Indonesia — in late 2016. If convicted, Purnama faces up to five years in prison for his actions.

This election is seen as a test of religious tolerance in a country whose laws don’t support the liberty to be blasphemous. Indonesia’s blasphemy laws were enacted in 1965, and in 2012 a public servant was imprisoned for two and a half years on the charge of outing himself as an atheist on Facebook.

If Purnama wins the election, this could be seen as an clear rejection of blasphemy laws, given that 85% of Indonesia’s population is Muslim. This election gives the people of Jakarta the ability to freely voice a rejection to these kind of laws that limit freedom of speech — especially political speech — and freedom of religion.

The results of the election are expected some time during late February.ccr

Some voters have spoken out in favor of Purnama’s re-election despite the controversy. “I am a devout Muslim but I don’t care about the religion of our leaders,” said Lip Purwantara, a voter “I am voting for someone who can make our city greener, cleaner and better place to live.”

BBC reports that they witnessed “people telling those queuing to make sure they ‘vote for a Muslim,’ before being warned by officials not to intimidate voters.

Despite the controversy, Purnama has been credited with many successful policy decisions, including efforts to improve the the city’s traffic situation, tackling corruption, turning a red-light district into a public park, and favoring greater education and healthcare access.

Private exit polls suggested that Purnama still maintained a slight lead over former education minister Anies Baswedan, but doesn’t have enough support to reach the required 50% threshold to win. This suggests the likely possibility of a run-off election, which would occur some time in April.


Photo Credit: Kompas / Kurnia Sari Aziza

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Nicholas Amato

Nicholas Amato is the News Editor at Being Libertarian. He’s an undergraduate student at San Jose State University, majoring in political science and minoring in journalism.


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