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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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Government moves to defuse tension

  • Marguerite Afra Sapii

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sat, November 19, 2016 | 07:47 am
Government moves to defuse tension Solemn occasion: Military and police members join mass prayers to ask for divine protection for the nation at the National Monument in Jakarta on Friday. The event was held amid fears of religious and political tension in the wake of blasphemy allegations and ahead of nationwide regional elections. (Antara/Angga Pratama)

Amid growing polarization among voters ahead of the simultaneous regional elections, the authorities have scrambled to ease the seemingly unabated tension stemming from an alleged blasphemy case.

As President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has been occupied in the past couple of weeks convening with a number of political and religious bigwigs, the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police have taken several soft-approach measures aimed at defusing the tension.

Several conservative Muslim fringe groups have refused to lower the tension although the National Police declared Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, a suspect in the blasphemy case on Wednesday.

In anticipation of another round of rallies by conservative Muslims, who will also join forces with labor unions, not only in Jakarta but in other places in the archipelago next week or in early December, the TNI and the National Police held on Friday a joint massive prayer at the National Monument in Central Jakarta.

Aimed at resonating peace and tolerance, around 20,000 personnel from all elements of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, as well as from the National Police, held a mass prayer under the theme “prayer for the safety of the nation”.

A dozen habibs (religious leaders) participated in the event.

The event was also participated in by thousands of orphans from orphanage foundations and members of pengajian (Islamic learning forum) groups across Jakarta, and family members of the security personnel.

At the same time, five worship places in the capital — the Jakarta Cathedral, GPIB Immanuel Church, HKBP Cililitan, GKI Kwitang and Pura Mustika Dharma — also held similar mass prayers led by their respective religious leaders.

National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said amid the growing polarization among voters who support different candidates, it was important to remind people not to blend politics with religious, ethnic and racial issues, which had the potential to disturb a democratic election.

“In Jakarta we have witnessed how the road to the gubernatorial election has involved such dynamics, and there has also been escalated tension that has caused security instability,” Tito said.

Since a dozen of conservative Muslim groups reported Ahok to the police in October, accusing him of blasphemy, the movement to have him prosecuted has grown bigger, culminating in the violent Nov. 4 rally in front of the State Palace and triggering a minor riot in a Chinese residential area in North Jakarta.

“Security forces will continue to ensure stability and security. However, human efforts won’t suffice if we don’t have God’s blessings,” said Tito.

TNI Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said the Friday mass prayers served as a reminder that the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia could only be realized with the help of figures from different religious backgrounds who fought for the country’s independence.

Shortly after the event, firebrand Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab confirmed that groups of anti-Ahok protesters would stage a third major rally against the governor on Dec. 2.

The groups are under the so-called National Movement of Indonesian Ulema Council Edict Supporters (GNPF MUI).

Rizieq, however, claimed that the demonstration would be “very peaceful” although the protesters would occupy the highway between the Semanggi intersection and the Presidential Palace.

He said the rally would only include Friday Prayer, Quran readings, mass prayers, dzikir (chants), as well as shalawat (prayers to Prophet Muhammad).

“Because Ahok still runs free, we have decided to stage another protest. Ahok should be jailed, it is the legal procedure. All suspects charged under Article 156 (a) of the Criminal Code in Indonesia’s history are always imprisoned,” FPI spokesman Munarman said.

In opposition to such a movement, a coalition of civil society groups is set to hold a “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika Parade”, a theme derived from the country’s motto “unity in diversity”, in the capital on Saturday.

Participants of the rally are expected to wear red-and-white clothes or Indonesia’s traditional clothes and are prohibited from representing any organization, company or political party.

Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto has questioned the GNPF MUI’s plan to hold another demonstration, saying that since the authorities had already fulfilled their demand to process Ahok through a transparent and fair mechanism, they should just wait for the next legal process.

Police chief Tito was suspicious that the demand to have Ahok imprisoned was politically motivated.

“The due process is still ongoing. I suspect those demanding the imprisonment have a certain political agenda for the upcoming elections.”

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