Jakarta Election Results in Vote of
Confidence for Pluralism
Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, left, and
Tjahaja Purnama (Photo from www.indoboom.com)
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
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
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
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, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.