Tag: Chinese

Ahok concedes defeat in Jakarta gubernatorial election

The governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has conceded defeat in a religiously-charged election to lead the Indonesian capital after unofficial vote counts showed a comfortable lead for his opponent Anies Baswedan.


“To our supporters, I know you are sad, but this is the will of God,” Basuki said.

“We still have six months to finish our homework and we will do our best,” he said, referring to his time left in office.
A representative selection of votes surveyed by several pollsters, referred to as quick counts, showed Basuki on 42 per cent and rival Anies commanding 58 per cent.

Anies is backed by conservative Muslims who want Basuki, a Christian of Chinese descent, jailed for a perceived insult to Islam that dogged his campaign.

The apparent margin of Basuki’s loss came as a surprise after polls conducted before the election showed the race to be too close to call.

Basuki won a three-way first-round vote on February 15, securing 43 per cent of the votes compared to Anies’s 40 per cent.

Anies said after the first results came in that he would work to unite the divided electorate.

“We are committed to maintaining unity in Jakarta,” Anies said. “We want to celebrate pluralism and diversity.”

The official tally from the run-off will not be announced until the first week of May, but the so-called quick counts have accurately predicted past elections.

Wednesday’s election was seen by some analysts as a test of secular democracy in the world’s most populous predominantly Muslim country.

“Your vote will determine the direction of Jakarta,” Basuki said after casting his ballot near his residence in North Jakarta.

“Let’s celebrate democracy with joy,” he said.

About 7 million of Jakarta’s 10 million residents were eligible to vote.

Basuki’s bid for a second term was hampered by a blasphemy case triggered by comments he made on the Koran.

Basuki’s remarks that there were people who deceived Muslim voters into believing that the Koran commands them not to vote for Jews and Christians sparked massive street protests by conservatives in November and December.

He was charged with blasphemy and is facing a maximum five-year jail term if found guilty. He remains free and a verdict is expected after the election.

He has apologized for the remarks, and said that he was referring to those who misused religion for political gain.

His campaign has warned that a victory for his Islamist-backed opponent could threaten diversity and pluralism.

“I voted for Ahok because he has proven to be a leader who gets things done and he represents diversity,” said Rudy Pardede after voting at a polling station in central Jakarta.

Security was tight in the capital, with 65,000 police officers deployed to guard against voter intimidation.

Once a clear favourite, Basuki saw his poll numbers falling after the blasphemy accusations, as many conservative Muslims genuinely believe that he insulted Islam.

Conversely, support for the US-educated Anies rose after he met one of the leaders of the anti-Basuki protests, firebrand cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab.

Basuki, the first Christian to lead Jakarta in 50 years, has been perceived as an effective administrator in a bureaucracy long plagued by corruption and incompetence.

He has won praise for cleaning up rivers clogged with rubbish in an effort to reduce flooding, a perennial problem in the city.

His administration has also built more parks and playgrounds.

But he has caused resentment with his decision to evict poor residents from their riverbank homes and relocate some of them to cramped, low-cost apartments, where they have to find rent money despite having been separated from their source of income.

Anies, a respected academic, has capitalized on the discontent, vowing to upgrade existing houses instead of evicting.

Rising anti-Chinese sentiment dampens Lunar New Year spirits

While shopping malls in Jakarta are decorated with red lanterns and dragons to welcome the Chinese New Year, rising anti-Chinese sentiment – fuelled by election rivalry – is causing uneasiness among some Indonesians.

“We’ve been told by our community leaders to tone down Chinese New Year celebrations and not to show off too much,” said Amie Liem, a Chinese-Indonesian who works at a private bank in Jakarta.

“Taxi drivers often ask me if I’m Chinese because I look Chinese, and that has made me uneasy,” she said.

Anti-Chinese sentiment has risen in the mainly Muslim country after Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, made remarks in September that some Muslims interpret as insulting to the Koran.

Ahok, who is running for a second term in office in elections in mid-February, denies the accusations and blames his critics for taking a verse from the Koran that suggests Muslims should not take Christians and Jews as allies, and using it against him.

Nevertheless, Ahok is on trial on charges of blasphemy and could face five years in jail. He remains free to campaign for the February 15 poll.

As in the United States last year, unconfirmed reports on social media have played a part.

Rumours that have fanned the flames include reports shared widely on social media and messaging platforms that millions of illegal Chinese workers are flooding Indonesia, or that Chinese nationals are secretly planning to destabilize the country.

The Chinese embassy in Jakarta was forced to deny some of the allegations, calling them “very worrying.”

“The current ethnic and religious tensions that are threatening our pluralism are being fanned by political interest groups,” said Emrus Sihombing, a political analyst at Pelita Harapan University.

“I believe the vast majority of Indonesians are tolerant, but we have to be vigilant and a threat to unity no matter how small it is must be dealt with properly,” he said.

The Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline group notorious in the past for smashing nightclubs they accused of harbouring drug addicts and prostitutes, has been at the forefront of efforts to prosecute Ahok, the first ethnic Chinese to lead the city of 10 million people.

A rally demanding Ahok be jailed on December 2 was attended by more than 300,000 people, mostly conservative Muslims.

An earlier protest on November 4, attended by some 100,000, ended with clashes between police and protesters who picketed the presidential palace.

The Front’s leader, controversial cleric Rizieq Shihab, is himself facing a police investigation over accusations he insulted the state secular ideology, Pancasila.

Ethnic Chinese have long been resented due to their perceived wealth and dominance in the Indonesian economy.

But since 2000 they have been free to celebrate their culture and identity after the government lifted a ban on Chinese cultural expressions imposed by dictator Suharto and declared the Chinese Lunar New Year a national holiday.

Suharto, who ruled for 32 years, stepped down in 1998 after riots that targeted ethnic Chinese businesses at the height of the Asian financial crisis.

“Since the Dutch colonial times the Chinese have always been the whipping boy, even though all they want is to do business in peace,” said Retno Sukardan Mamoto, a cultural studies professor at the University of Indonesia.

“They have always been fearful because they have been attacked from left and right, and even when they try to be in politics, they are being scapegoated,” she said.

But Retno praised President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for his handling of the situation.

He has met Islamic religious leaders to try to calm tensions while also asserting his authority by calling on security forces not to compromise on the country’s motto “unity in diversity.”

“He’s used lobbying and persuasion to dealt with extremists and has not resorted to force and for that we should take our hat off to him,” she said.

Jokowi himself was a victim of a smear campaign in the run-up to the 2014 election. At the time rumours circulated that he was the son of communist and Chinese parents.

Amie, the bank worker, said she would still go out for dinner with her Chinese friends to herald the year of the rooster, which falls on Saturday.

“We’ll forget about politics and eat some duck,” she said.