Following the heated Jakarta election and ahead of a series of upcoming key elections, Indonesia is witnessing a surge in identity politics sparking racial and religious tension, which is dangerous for the stability of the country, explains Finance Minister Sri Mulyani.
“In this very fierce competition, those who really want to win an election can use whatever [means] from rhetoric up to promises and create a deeper divide among people, like what you see in [the] US and many countries,” stated Mulyani, on the sidelines of a joint Financial Times summit with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Hong Kong, as quoted by FT.
Following the racial and religious tensions surrounding the legal case and electoral campaigns of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama–who is of Christian-Chinese descent–many think that such hostility against minority groups have been on the rise in the last couple of years.
However, a report by National Public Radio in the United States suggests that there are long-standing cases of religious intolerance that has marred relatively peaceful Indonesia. One example is the case of Taman Yasmin Indonesia Christian Church.
Since 2003, the church has obtained all the necessary legal permits for its operation, but local Muslim citizens pressured the local government to cancel the permits. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2010. But to this day, the congregation can’t worship there.
More recently, however, the attitude of intolerance has spread from the social into the political realm, which peaked in the efforts by Islamist groups to unseat Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama after he was alleged to have made a blasphemous remark against Islam. The campaign against Ahok, as Basuki is nicknamed, was successful with Ahok going on to lose an election in April and subsequently jailed for his remarks.
While many hoped the tensions would decline after the elections and oust of Basuki, the identity debate continues as many groups and parties have their eyes on the upcoming presidential election in 2019. Most recently, the tension was fueled by newly-inaugurated Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.
With racial issues set to rise leading up to upcoming elections, Sri Mulyani hopes that Indonesians can debate these sensitive issues while respecting differences. “I rely on the maturity of the people to create balancing forces, so when some try to go to the extreme, usually there’ll be a correction,” she said.