JAKARTA: At the Orion Plaza in the North Jakarta suburb of Glodok, Along Jenggot solders a connector onto a satellite dish cable. He has worked here since before 1998, when rioters stormed the mall, looted its shops and set it ablaze. The ceiling fell in, Jenggot recalls. The walls are still charred in places.
Now the owner of a small electronics repair shop at the mall, Jenggot worries whether the same strife will erupt again. “It can happen,” the 50-year-old said. “They are using race and religion now. We know the capacity of the politicians now.”
After a toxic election campaign that centred on race and religion, many in this sprawling city had hoped tensions would ease. But for many, those hopes were dashed this week when the capital’s newly minted governor, Anies Baswedan, during his inaugural address appeared to pit the country’s majority against ethnic Chinese and other minority groups.
In remarks that triggered a barrage of criticism on social media, Baswedan called on the Muslim majority “pribumi” – a loaded term to refer to anyone not a visible minority – to become “masters of an independent country”. For some, the comments underscored worries that Baswedan would not live up to earlier assurances that he would protect religious and ethnic minorities.
“Anies has promised to respect minorities and be a governor for all residents of Jakarta. However, his attitude is often the opposite,” said Soe Tjen Marching, an ethnic Chinese activist and writer.
“He consciously or unconsciously emphasises division and discrimination. Although he promised to respect minorities, this seems like just lip service.”
Baswedan, a former academic and education minister in the cabinet of President Joko Widodo, owes his election to the support from hardline Muslim groups targeting the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
Better known as Ahok, Purnama ran afoul of Muslims when a doctored video circulated on social media that appeared to depict him insulting the Koran. He did not, but groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) ran with it, in part because they objected to being governed by a non-Muslim.
“The most important thing for us is to have a Muslim governor,” said Sugito Atmo Pawiro, the FPI’s chief lawyer.
Late last year, the Islamic group and their allies mobilised hundreds of thousands onto the street in a successful effort to force police to charge Purnama with blasphemy. Purnama was jailed in May. “This was a very big struggle and God willing we prevailed,” said Sugito.
As Purnama’s case went to trial during the election campaign earlier this year, Baswedan, a moderate Muslim in step with the country’s secularist traditions, allied with the FPI, which supports the introduction of sharia law, in a bid to secure a big chunk of the Muslim vote. It worked and Baswedan, who had never held elected office before, swept to victory with nearly 60 per cent of the vote. (CONTINUED)
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