The Jakarta Post
The aromatic fragrance from three burning joss sticks filled every corner of the plenary hall of the North Sulawesi Legislative Council ( DPRD ) as Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle ( PDI-P ) politician Andrei Angouw took the oath of office to become the council's new speaker.
Standing beside a priest who wore the black Chang San robe and the red Hong Ling Dai scarf, Andrei looked a bit nervous in the beginning of the swearing-in ceremony held on Tuesday in the provincial capital of Manado.
The 45-year-old businessman-cum-politician, however, managed to take his oath without a hitch as he placed his right hand on top of the Sishu Wujing, the authoritative texts of Confucianism.
Andrei, who replaced fellow party colleague Steven Kandouw after the latter's inauguration as North Sulawesi deputy governor last week, is the first Confucian in the country to lead a legislative body in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country.
'This is the first time for the Confucianism ritual to be used in an official inauguration ceremony in Indonesia,' said Jimmy Sofyan Yosadi, the chief patron of the North Sulawesi chapter of the Indonesia Confucianism High Assembly ( Matakin ), who was present at the ceremony.
'Even though Andrei was a bit nervous, he finally made it.'
Following decades of official discrimination, Chinese-Indonesians were finally allowed to openly express their culture and language when then president Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid lifted in 2001 a 1967 government regulation banning Chinese cultural activities in public spaces.
He also acknowledged Confucianism as a religion and made Chinese New Year a national holiday.
The post-reform policy soon inspired many Chinese-Indonesians to enter politics and compete with other citizens to secure public posts at the local and national levels.
Among notable Chinese-Indonesian politicians who made their way to the top are Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, Ahok's younger brother Basuri Tjahaja Purnama, the former regent of East Belitung in Bangka Belitung, and M. Anton, the mayor of the East Java city of Malang.
Ahok and Basuri are Christian while Anton is Muslim.
Sofyan, who leads the province's Chinese Cultural Community, said the appointment of the Chinese-Indonesian and Confucian Andrei as DPRD speaker proved a growing public acceptance for members of minority groups to plays roles in Indonesian politics.
'We are very thankful and proud to see that,' he said.
Data from the Central Statistics Agency ( BPS ) shows that Indonesia has 117,000 Confucianism followers, 0.05 percent of the country's 237 million people. A third of them live in Bangka Belitung province.
The Christian-majority North Sulawesi, meanwhile, has fewer than 1,000 followers of Confucianism,
a very small figure compared to the province's 2.2 million population.
In his inauguration remarks, Andrei, who secured his reelection as councilor in 2014, said he was proud to be a Confucian and had implemented Prophet Kong Zi's teachings in his business and political careers.
He also expressed gratitude to his parents for introducing him to Confucian values and gave his respect to friends, teachers and others.
'I thank my parents for teaching me such valuable life lessons,' he said.
The Home Ministry's director general for regional autonomy, Soni Sumarsono, also welcomed Andrei's inauguration as the council's new speaker.
'This is what's wonderful in North Sulawesi. The people live in peace and harmony,' the province's former acting governor said.