Christians have much at stake as Indonesia goes to the polls

July 8, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

indonesia's electionIndonesia, July 07, 2014: Indonesia is at a historic crossroads: the result of the presidential elections on 9 July – coupled with May’s parliamentary elections – could strengthen the country’s young democracy, marking its full maturity. This also applies to the government’s relationship with religious minorities such as Christians.

The country has a young history of democracy. Less than twenty years ago, Indonesia was under Suharto’s dictatorship and the word “democracy” was still a remote concept. In 1998, a popular sub-movement overthrew the tyrant and free elections were held, an event of historical importance.

Now, 187 million voters will be choosing the fourth president in Indonesia’s history. And the person they choose in this country with the largest Muslim population in the world, could really bring “Pancasila” (the five principles upon which the Indonesian Constitution is based) to life, embodying the principles of pluralism, tolerance and “unity in diversity” which make the Islamic country a cradle of intercultural and interreligious harmony.

The favourite so far, is the charismatic 50-year-old candidate, Joko Widodo, Jakarta’s former governor. He is also known as “Jokowi”, which reflects change in comparison to the past: he is part of that generation which launched a mass protest against Suharto. Jokowi has presented himself to the electorate as a ferryman who aims to steer the country out of the shallows of corruption, of the established circles of economic and military power that have dominated for decades. He has presented himself as the antithesis of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the outgoing president who was given the thumbs down by voters for three main reasons: the failed economic revival; his involvement in the scandals and financial misconduct and his failure in stopping the growing religious intolerance that independent institutes and civil society have criticized and documented.

Widodo is the young people and religious minorities’ favourite (the influence of the young in Indonesian society is increasing). Religious minorities, including Christians make up 10% of the country’s population. Indeed, items in the leader’s political agenda include human rights, freedoms, minority rights and the fight against religious intolerance. During the election campaign, he used key words such as peace, harmony, justice and common good. Even as leader of the lay and nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), he gained the support of Islamic parties like the National Awakening Party (PKB), not to mention the recent unofficial endorsement of the popular Muslim movement “Muhammadiyah” which is widespread din Indonesia. This factor could prove decisive.

Former army general Prabowo Subianto represents the old military class which is still influential. He embodies old politics and a system that does not want to give up power. He still enjoys widespread support (so he could still win the elections): public opinion sees him as a solid and bold figure. His economic program which proposes massive funding for the development of Indonesian villages has been warmly welcomed by Indonesians. Subianto enjoys the open support of radical Islamic groups like the Islamic Defenders Front which spreads hatred and violence in Indonesian society.

The scenario seems clear: Jokowi’s victory could give a final shove to a system, which has never fully stopped controlling the State, even from behind the front line and the start of a renewal process within the leading classes. It would also fuel hopes for a reinforced rule of law, an end to abuse of power and to impunity for radical Islamic groups.

– vatican insider

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