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JAKARTA Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama conceded his loss in a re-election bid Wednesday, bringing to an end what one newspaper called Indonesia’s “dirtiest, most polarizing” campaign.

His defeat will likely be seen as a victory for the country’s conservative Muslims, who have campaigned strongly against the ethnic Chinese Christian governor commonly known as Ahok.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country, with an estimated 263 million people, about 87% of whom are followers of Islam.

“We should forget the difference. We are all the same,” Ahok said after early election results indicated he was trailing his opponent, Anies Baswedan, a former Indonesian education and culture minister.

A final official result is unlikely to be known for at least two weeks.

Analysts said Ahok’s loss will encourage the use of religion in Indonesian elections as a political tool.

“There will not be any drastic changes to Jakarta, Anies will not apply Sharia law, but now this is a steep learning curve for politicians and political parties at seeing how (effective) religious issues are, even when used against an incumbent who was performing very well,” said Tobias Basuki, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an Indonesian think tank.

Jakarta Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama and his family cast their ballots Wednesday in Jakarta.
Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and his family cast their ballots Wednesday in Jakarta.

Earlier Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said political differences should not “break our unity.”

“We are all brothers and sisters. Whoever is elected, we must accept,” he told reporters after voting. The Indonesian leader, a close ally of Ahok’s, has been vocal in his support for the governor during the campaign.

It’s unclear what impact Ahok’s loss will have on Joko in the 2019 presidential election. “In the short term, it’s a blow to him, but we’ll have to see. So much can change so quickly here,” said Ian Wilson, research fellow at Australia’s Murdoch University Asia Research Center.

The Jakarta Post editorial board was brutal in its assessment of the campaign and what it had meant for Indonesia.
“(This) election campaign … (has) been the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen, far worse than that for the 2014 Presidential election,” the newspaper’s editorial said Wednesday.

Ahok was fiercely targeted during the campaign by hard-line Muslim groups, who supported Baswedan.

The governor is on trial over blasphemy charges after an edited version of comments he made at a November rally went viral on Indonesian social media.

At mass rallies in March, thousands of Jakartans protested against Ahok, calling for him to be removed from power and jailed. Some Muslim voters were told the Quran forbade them from voting for a non-Muslim, such as Ahok, Wilson said.

Losing the election isn’t just disappointing for Ahok, but it could also leave him vulnerable to being jailed.
A verdict and sentence in the blasphemy trial depends largely on the public’s mood, said Basuki, the researcher at the think tank.

“It seems like the court was waiting. If Ahok had won by a large margin, there wouldn’t be much danger if (it) charged him with a low sentence, but the election alone will (add) pressure to charge him on a higher count,” he said.

Tensions have eased Wednesday night in Jakarta after the election, said Wilson, the Murdoch University research fellow.

“There’s relief on all fronts because if Ahok had won, it was very likely there would have been an angry and potentially violent reaction from some (conservative Muslim) groups,” Wilson told CNN from the Indonesian capital.

“When I was in the stronghold of the anti-Ahok movement, they were implying they’re willing to hit the streets and all the rest of it. Now Anies has won, they’re pretty relaxed.”

About 65,000 police were deployed in advance of the protests, local media had reported, highlighting how divisive the campaign had been. – CNN

JAKARTA: Indonesian police have arrested two suspects allegedly connected to the recent mass killing in a house in Pulo Mas, East Jakarta, where six people died while five others suffered injuries.

The two suspects, Ramlan Butar Butar alias Pincang and Erwin Situmorang, were arrested in Ramlan’s brother’s house in Bekasi, West Java, Jakarta police spokesman Sr Comr Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono said.

“We are moving forward to hunt the other suspects,” Argo was quoted by tempo.co as saying on Wednesday.

Jakarta police reported earlier on Tuesday that six people, including several children, died during a suspected robbery in the house while five others survived. There were 11 people inside the bathroom, he said, and only five survived.

Information from the police revealed the fatalities were Dodi Triono, 59; Diona Arika, 16; Dianita Gemma, nine; Amel, a friend of one of the children, Yanto and Tasrok, who were both the family’s drivers.

Zanette Kalila, 13, Santi, 22, Emi, Fitriani and Windy, who were the housemaids, all survived. – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

JAKARTA – The problems and poverty faced by religious schools known as ‘pondok pesantren’ in Indonesia constantly received attention from Malaysia.

Malaysia, via the Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia, today handed over a cash donation amounting to more than Rp30 million (about RM10,000) to the Pondok Pesantren Al I’tishom in Southern Jakarta here.

The contribution was handed by Malaysian Ambassador Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim and received by the principal of the pesantren, Ustaz Marzuki Arman Abduh.

Zahrain said in his speech that the financial assistance was part of the activity of the embassy which was also supported by Malaysian businessmen and companies operating in Indonesia.

He said the Malaysian government, as Indonesia’s closest and most intimate neighbour, always gave its contributions to the needy in Indonesia.

— BERNAMA

Jakarta, Dec 20, 2016 (AFP) – Jakarta’s Christian governor returned to court Tuesday to fight allegations of insulting the Koran that could see him jailed under tough blasphemy laws in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

The high-profile case against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — the first Christian to govern the capital in more than 50 years — has captivated attention in Indonesia, and fanned concerns about hardliners pushing their agenda in the nation of 255 million.

Purnama, known for his outspoken style, ignited a firestorm of criticism when he quoted a verse from the Islamic holy text in September.

The governor apologised but his remarks angered Muslims — both moderate and conservative — who marched against him in the largest rallies seen in Indonesia in years.

In a teary, nationally televised defence last week, Purnama denied ever intending to offend his Muslim countrymen and asked the judges to dismiss the case.

Prosecutors argue he insulted Muslims by claiming his political opponents were using the Koran to sway voters against him.

Purnama’s lawyers claim proceedings are being rushed and the judges subject to public pressure.

Outside the courthouse, dozens of hardline Islamists chanted “God is Great” and waved banners demanding Purnama be jailed, while supporters called for his release.

Almost all blasphemy cases in Indonesia have resulted in convictions.

Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, faces a maximum five-year prison sentence if found guilty.

The laws have seen Muslims from sects deemed deviant put behind bars, and even atheists have been handed jail sentences for falling foul of the provisions.

Rights groups claim the laws are used to persecute minorities and fear the highly public case against Purnama is eroding Indonesia’s reputation for tolerance and diversity.

Long the favourite to win re-election in February, Purnama has watched his lead slip as the case against him has dragged on.

He is running against two Muslim candidates for the governorship of Indonesia’s largest city.

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A tearful governor of Jakarta denied on Tuesday he had intended to insult the Koran at the start of his blasphemy trial in the Indonesian capital, which is seen as a test of religious freedom in the world largest Muslim-majority nation.

Around 100 Muslim protesters calling for the jailing of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, chanted “God is great” outside the court.

Authorities have pledged tight security for the trial after tens of thousands of Muslims, led by hardliners, took to the streets in December and November, to call for Purnama’s arrest and to urge voters not to re-elect him in February.

The rallies, with over 150,000 participants each, were the biggest Jakarta has seen in nearly two decades.

Purnama told the court that he had not intended any insult when he made comments about his opponents’ use of the Koran in political campaigning. He denies wrongdoing but has apologised for the remarks.

“It is clear what I said in the Thousand Islands was not intended to interpret the (Koran), moreover to insult Islam or the ulema,” said the governor, who was dressed in a batik shirt.

Purnama said that his comments were targeted at rival politicians trying to get an unfair advantage in the election by saying that voters should not support a non-Muslim.

Purnama is running for re-election against two Muslim candidates.

The trial was aired live on television and there were also supporters of the governor, whose nickname is Ahok, outside the court.

“He is absolutely suited to be governor. The city has come a long way in terms of development…,” said Charles Simanjuntak, 46, a supporter of the governor who does not believe he committed blasphemy.

Among the protesters opposed to the governor, one group held a placard reading “Jailing Ahok = fair government”

President Joko Widodo, seen as an ally to Purnama, has blamed “political actors” for fuelling the protests, but declined to elaborate. Widodo has faced widespread criticism for not doing enough to protect the country’s religious minorities.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, but the country of 250 million also has sizeable Christian, Hindu and Buddhist communities and dozens of groups that adhere to traditional beliefs.

Purnama, if found guilty, faces up to five years in prison. Almost all blasphemy cases in recent years have ended in conviction.

As Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese governor, Purnama won kudos for shaking up the city’s sleepy bureaucracy and for taking steps to ease the city’s notorious traffic. But his abrasive language and insistence on clearing the city’s slums has alienated many voters.

Recent opinion polls showed Purnama, once the frontrunner in the race to lead Jakarta, has now slipped to second place, behind Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen and Agustinus da Costa; Editing by Michael Perry)

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Thousands of white-clad Muslims streamed towards a central Jakarta park on Friday, gathering for a rally expected to draw more than 100,000 Indonesians demanding the arrest of the capital’s governor, a Christian accused of insulting the Koran.

National news agency Antara said 22,000 police personnel would be deployed to avoid a repeat of the violence that flared during a protest led by hardline Islamists last month when more than 100 people were injured in clashes with police.

Muslim groups accuse Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama of insulting the Koran, though they have pledged that Friday’s demonstration will be peaceful..

Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, is running for re-election in February against two Muslim candidates.

The race for the governorship has generated high political tension, and rumours of plots to undermine President Joko Widodo and scupper his chances of winning a second term in 2019.

Widodo, a long-time ally of Purnama, has blamed “political actors” for taking advantage of the popular fury among Muslims over Purnama to further their own ends, and the police have warned against attempts to destabilise his government.

Local media said on Friday that eight people had been detained for alleged treason. Police officials were not immediately available to comment on the reports, and Widodo declined to comment when asked by reporters.

Protesters began moving from the hulking Istiqlal mosque towards the National Monument in the centre of the city at around 5 a.m., after morning prayers.

“We are expecting over 100,000 participants,” Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said late on Thursday. “There is enough security so the public need not worry. We hope everything will proceed according to the agreement with the protesters.”

FEARS FOR POLITICAL STABILITY

Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population but recognises six religions and is home to dozens of ethnic groups, some of which follow traditional beliefs.

Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, is being investigated over comments he made about his opponents’ use of the Koran in campaigning. He denies wrongdoing but has apologised for the remarks.

Police on Thursday handed over their investigation dossier to prosecutors, who are expected to take the case of alleged blasphemy to court in the coming weeks.

“This gathering is an expression of Muslims being united as one people, one body,” said Salist Nursolikhah, 49, who flew into Jakarta from the city of Yogjakarta to join the rally.

“It’s not against a particular person because of his ethnicity. We are only against his action,” she said.

Simmering religious and ethnic tension last month prompted Widodo to rally top military, political and religious figures in a sign of unity amid fears of attempts to undermine the stability of his government.

Police helicopters last week dropped leaflets over the capital warning of harsh penalties if the upcoming rally turned violent.

The Jakarta government has also put up billboards on major roads calling for national unity and displaying pictures of independence heroes who fought against colonial rule.

The Australian foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy in Jakarta issued security notices urging nationals to avoid the demonstration.

Purnama is popular with many for pushing through tough reforms to modernise the country’s traffic-plagued capital city.

But opinion polls have shown him slipping into second place in the race for re-election as governor — a position that Widodo himself, who is popularly known as Jokowi, used as a stepping-stone to the presidency.

“Jokowi’s handling has been inadequate because it looks like he’s defending Ahok,” said protester Rini Pupitasari. “We will keep demonstrating until he is detained. But we will do so peacefully.”

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Michael Perry)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has urged Indonesia to rethink allowing its smallholders to carry out open burning to clear land.

This traditional method, if stopped, will help lessen the transboundary haze that plagues Malaysia annually, said Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

“I understand that it is a tradition for Indonesia but if possible, we would like it to be stopped.

“I was told that every smallholder with land less than two hectares is allowed to conduct open burning but what happens if there are 100 such farmers,” he said at a press conference after opening the 18th International Surveyors’ Congress yesterday.

Wan Junaidi said the decision lay with Indonesia on how to handle land clearing because it was an internal affair.

He said Malaysia could only ask Indonesia to proactively take steps to lessen the impact, such as by putting out the fires immediately and closely supervising its peat areas.

“I was told that 20 concessions for plantations in peat areas in Indonesia have ended,” he said.

Also, Wan Junaidi was confident that the transboundary haze issue could be solved through the government to government (G2G) initiative proposed by Indonesia.

It was reported that a memorandum of understanding between Malaysia and Sumatra province on the issue could not go forward.

Indonesia instead proposed that the problem be addressed through G2G cooperation.

Wan Junaidi said the rationale behind this was logical, it would be more effective to tackle the haze with the cooperation of the Indonesian government.

A technical meeting will take place on May 30 in Indonesia to discuss the instruments needed for the G2G initiative.

JAKARTA: A haze has descended on this Indonesian capital city, reducing visibility to between five and 10 kilometres and making several skyscrapers “disappear” from view.

This Bernama correspondent snapped some photographs which had several tall buildings, such as the 132-metre high National Monument, “missing”.

The air pollutant index table on the website of the Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics did not indicate air quality of an unhealthy level.

The agency said, however, that Jakarta and nearby areas such as Bogor, Depok, Tengarang and Bekasi will experience thunderstorms today.

Indonesia is currently experiencing the rainy season, and several areas in Jakarta were flooded recently.

From Azeman Ariffin

JAKARTA: Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman is leading the country’s delegation to the 5th Extraordinary Ministerial Meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif being held here Monday.

More than 600 delegates from 57 OIC member countries and two international organisations are attending the meeting.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in his opening remarks, said he hoped that the resolution of the extraordinary summit could be implemented immediately.

As a show of support of the Indonesian Government for the settlement of the Palestine issue in the near future, Indonesia would officially open a consular office in Ramallah, he said.

Indonesia would also provide US$1 million and continue offering capacity- building programmes, he added.

Joko said the basic rights and freedom of the Palestinian people should not be forgotten, and added that the summit was mainly to voice out and express support for the freedom of Palestine.

Indonesia had always pushed for the UN Security Council to make decisions regarding Palestine, including in the form of presidential statements or resolutions, as a reflection of the responsibility of the UN Security Council in maintaining international peace and security.

The summit is expected to come out with a resolution that reaffirmed the principled positions and commitments of the OIC to support Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif, and a Jakarta Declaration, initiated by Indonesia, which contains concrete steps to support the cause of Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif.

— BERNAMA

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police shot dead four suspected militants who were part of a bomb and gun attack in the capital, Jakarta, on Thursday and the area is being secured, a police spokesman said.

“We are sterilising the building from basement to top,” Iqbal Kabid told reporters, explaining that a gunbattle between the attackers and police took place in a cinema that is in the same building as a Starbucks cafe that was attacked.

“We will declare the situation secure soon,” he said.

(Reporting by John Chalmers; Editing by Robert Birsel)