Indonesia (MNN) — The race to elect the governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, is over. The world has watched as the city’s first Christian governor ran for re-election against an Indonesian Muslim in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation. Just yesterday, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian candidate, conceded the race to his Muslim opponent, Anies Baswedan.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, former governor of Jakarta, Indonesia (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
While Mr. Basuki had a strong lead for much of the election season, he was accused of blasphemy by radical Muslim groups — an obstacle he was unable to overcome for re-election. Mr. Basuki, an ethnically Chinese Christian, now faces a trial in Indonesia on blasphemy charges.
The Voice of the Martyrs USA’s Todd Nettleton says, “The challenge now as we come out of this election…is just the challenge of, what political rights are Christians going to have moving forward? Was this simply a political election where one person put forward their ideas, another person put forward their ideas, and the voters went for the other guy? Or how much did it play into the fact that this was a Christian and that radical Muslims within Indonesia are saying, ‘We shouldn’t have a Christian in this leadership role. As a Muslim, you should vote for a Muslim, regardless of what their politics are.’”
Indonesia is home to over 202 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in the world. Yet, the southeast Asian country officially holds to the philosophy of ‘Pancasila’ — an Indonesian word that has many facets to it, but in general, it encourages the idea that different people regardless of religion should live side-by-side in harmony.
Jakarta, Indonesia (Photo courtesy of Adhi Rachdian via Flickr: https://goo.gl/OucQZF)
However, analysts say this recent election may signal a growing confidence in the use of religion as a political weapon by the Muslim-majority population. And a local news outlet calls this latest election in Indonesia the “dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen.”
Nettleton says, “I think that’s the question Christians are asking is, ‘Okay, what’s our role in the society as a whole? Is this idea of Pancasila dead? Or are we still trying to live in harmony side-by-side?’”
So what kind of the persecution and obstacles do Indonesian Christians tend to face? “They are free in a legal sense in most parts of Indonesia…. There are places where the government is putting pressure. They often use sort of zoning laws, property laws. There are some parts of Indonesia where, if you’re going to build a church, you need a certain percentage of your neighbors to sign off on the idea that, yes, there’s going to be a Christian building, a Christian church in our neighborhood.
“Most of the time, though, it is social pressure. It is radical Muslims or the vast majority Muslims coming against a small minority of Christians in a certain area saying, ‘You shouldn’t be here. This is a Muslim area.’ So there is pressure from a social or societal level, even if the law and the courts say, ‘Yes, this is a free country, we have freedom of religion, you can follow Christ if you want to.’”
Please take a moment to pray for Indonesia. “I think we want to pray for the country as a whole. We want to pray for wisdom for the leaders who are in place there.”
Nettleton also says, “I think particularly we want to pray for Christians. This is a disappointment for Christians who are looking at this election result and seeing that. But our call from Christ is not dependent on election results, it’s not dependent on what the government says we can or should or shouldn’t do, it is dependent on Christ’s call to go and make disciples. So pray that the Church there will stand boldly and strongly for truth and for Christ, regardless of which way the political winds blow, regardless of the outcome of any particular election.”