Christians anxious as Indonesia goes to polls

The charismatic former governor of Jakarta, 50-year-old Joko Widodo, is the favourite of religious minorities and young people, whose influence in Indonesian society is increasing.

July 14 2014, 4:04 PM
Christians anxious as Indonesia goes to polls
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo speaks to supporters as he campaigns in Batujajar, West Java.

Indonesian Christians anxiously await the result of the July 9 Presidential elections. Whether the nation will be ruled by reformist Joko Widodo or hardline ex-general Prabowo Subianto would decide the government’s relationship with religious minorities.

Religious minorities, including Christians make up 10% of the country’s population. Who the 187 million voters choose as the fourth president would bring to life the ‘Pancasila’, the five principles upon which the Indonesian Constitution is based.  

The Constitution of Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, embodies the principles of pluralism, tolerance and ‘unity in diversity’. However, the influence of radical Muslim groups is increasing in the Islamic country that has been a cradle of intercultural and interreligious harmony.

The charismatic former governor of Jakarta, 50-year-old Joko Widodo, is the favourite of religious minorities and young people, whose influence in Indonesian society is increasing. Also known as ‘Jokowi’, he is part of that generation which launched a mass protest against Suharto.

Less than twenty years ago, Indonesia was under Suharto’s dictatorship and the word “democracy” was a remote concept. In 1998, a popular sub-movement overthrew the tyrant and free elections were held. 

Jokowi has presented himself to the electorate as a ferryman who aims to steer the country out of the shadows of corruption and of the established circles of economic and military power that have dominated for decades.

Jokowi 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.

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; public opinion sees him as a solid and bold figure. His economic programme 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.

Realising the historic significance of this election, the Indonesian bishops had invited faithful to choose candidates who “have a desire to serve others rather than pursuing their own personal interests,” focusing on “those who uphold the principles and values of democracy” and promote tolerance.

The Holy See too has been following the situation in Indonesia closely: the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Miguel Angel Ayuso Guizot, visited the country shortly before the vote. On his semi-official visit, Ayuso Guizot met with prominent members of the Christian and Muslims communities.

Source: Vatican Insider

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