November 2012


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Jakarta Election Results in Vote of Confidence for Pluralism

Jennie Bev

Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, left, and Basuki “Ahok”
Tjahaja Purnama (Photo from

In September, Jakarta had its local elections for governor and vice governor, a historic moment as voters elected a non-Muslim of Chinese ethnicity as vice governor for the first time, indicating that Jakartans may be growing more accepting of pluralism.

The winning pair was Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the former mayor of the town of Solo, for governor and Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, the former regency head of East Belitung, for vice governor. Both Jokowi and Ahok have developed reputations for integrity and good governance in previous elected positions in other regions.

The Jokowi-Ahok pair, symbolizing strong teamwork and interethnic collaboration at the gubernatorial level, is a first in Jakarta’s politics. That the pair won with 53 percent of the votes was a surprise to many Indonesians and suggests that voters valued experience over racial or religious identity.

In Indonesia, some groups have been pushing for the integration of mosque and state, such as Hizb-ut Tahrir Indonesia, which actively calls for the implementation of sharia, or Islamic principles, and for an Islamic State. Groups like these have received a great deal of attention in the international media. However, Indonesian Muslims do not have a tradition of voting for Islamic parties. In fact, in past elections, Islamic parties have received a combined total of only 15 percent to 20 percent of the vote.

A 2012 survey by the Saiful Mujani Research Center revealed that the four most popular national parties—the Partai Golongan Karya (Working Group Party), the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (Democratic Party of Indonesia—Struggle), the Partai Demokrat (Democratic Party) and the Partai Nasional Demokrat (National Democratic Party)—are not religiously affiliated.

These realities, along with Jokowi-Ahok’s election, suggest that Indonesians prefer a separation between mosque and state.

Jokowi-Ahok’s election has not been without criticism, however.

As vice governor, under the existing governor’s decree, Ahok would normally be considered the “honorary chair” of several of Jakarta’s religious organizations, despite his own religious affiliation. Being an “honorary chair” means his name would be included in the descriptions of the organizations’ work and he would attend official events pertaining to these organizations’ specific roles.

The Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI), a vocal Muslim extremist group, argued that, as a non-believer, Ahok is not fit to enter a mosque or lead Islamic organizations and groups.

Gov. Jokowi quickly resolved the issue, calming the public with a statement that he will repeal the decree proscribing this official duty for vice governors.

When it comes to the broader issue of separation of religion and state, it is worth noting that there is a tradition of this concept in Indonesia. Both the late Islamic scholar Nurcholis Madjid and the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid were strong advocates of such separation. They argued that religion must be separated from governance so that religion can be spared from political intrigues. They also advocated pluralism in which differences in faiths and ethnicities would be accepted.

In Islam and the Secular State in Indonesia, a book by Islamic scholar Luthfi Assyaukanie, the author highlights Madjid’s belief that there is a misperception that only Islamic parties can make improvements to the lives of Muslims and Islam.

Such notions must be dispelled, Madjid argued, as Muslims must be able to distinguish between public and private duties. He invites readers to detach themselves from the dichotomy of Islamic and non-Islamic and to practice pluralism in everyday activities. This shift may translate to voting for a secular party or secular presidential and gubernatorial candidates while still practicing Islamic values in one’s private life.

Jokowi and Ahok have set a precedent. If Jakartans can elect leaders that exemplify inclusivity and pluralism in action, other regions may as well. Such collaborations in leadership exemplify humanity at its best in which common values, rather than a specific ethnicity or religion, prevails.

* Jennie Bev is an independent scholar, author and columnist for the Jakarta Post and Forbes Asia. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, Nov. 6, 2012, <>.
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