Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab, front row, third from left, has been very vocal in his criticism of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Religion Could Be Divisive Issue in 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Race: Expert

BY :EDO KARENSA

MARCH 14, 2016

Jakarta. There is a risk that religion may become a divisive issue ahead of next year's Jakarta gubernatorial election, a political expert has warned on Monday (14/03).

Agung Wasono, executive director of the Institute for Economics Politics and Public Policy Analysis (Lanskap), said Jakarta residents and political figures should refrain from involving religion in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

This comes after Rizieq Shihab, the leader of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), launched a campaign on Feb. 26 aimed at finding  Muslim candidates to oppose incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is Christian and ethnic Chinese.

Rizieq said the campaign, known as the Convention of Muslim Candidates for Jakarta Governor, would support Muslim candidates without violating the law or the constitution. At least 11 potential candidates participated in this event.

This move was met by a counter-campaign on social media, which saw photos shared on Facebook and Twitter of women in hijab holding signs stating:  "I'm a Muslim and I support Ahok," referring to Basuki by his popular nickname.

"It is important to understand that religious matters should be addressed in private," Agung told the Jakarta Globe. He added that the inclusion of religion as a factor in the Jakarta gubernatorial race would negatively affect the legitimacy of the election result.

"All supporters must stop this right now. It seems that they will involve religious sentiment ahead of the election," Agung said. He also urged candidates to focus only on their respective election manifestos and policies, instead of religion.

The 2015 Global Attitudes Survey by Washington-based think tank PEW Research Center found that 95 percent of Indonesians consider a political candidate's religion as an important criterion. This number is considerably higher when compared to other democracies such as the United States (53 percent) and Australia (18 percent).

Basuki was the first to declare his candidacy for next year's Jakarta election. He will be an independent candidate, along with city official Heru Budihartono as his running mate.

Other candidates set to join next year's race include law expert Yusril Ihza Mahendra, former minister Adhyaksa Dault and rock star Ahmad Dhani.

Ridwan Kamil, the mayor of Bandung, West Java, has bowed out of the race, having chosen to focus on successfully completing his current term, which ends in 2018.

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