Indonesia, which has long prided itself on being a secular nation, is now seeing a rise in the voices and power of Islamists.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (BTP), the Chinese-Indonesian politician and former governor of Jakarta, was convicted of blasphemy for insulting the Quran when he suggested that practicing Muslims not vote for non-Islamic candidates. He was given a two- year sentence following a controversial speech during the September 2016 gubernatorial elections, riling Muslim supporters because of his misinterpretation of the Qu’ran, stating that a certain portion of the Quran was being used to mislead voters against him. Incarcerated since April of 2016, he was released January 24th, 3 months in advance, for good behavior.
Despite backlash for his comments, radical Islamic leaders around the country took this opportunity to advocate for Indonesia to declare itself a Muslim nation. “Purnama’s case made a lot of people aware of a problem that I’ve been studying for years, which is that radical Islam is really on the rise in Indonesia,” Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Jakarta, told the New York Times. “You can’t ignore it anymore.”
Upon his release, the controversial politician joined the 2019 presidential election campaign team. The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is the country’s current ruling party, represented by President Joko Widodo and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.
Purnama’s recent release and party membership pose certain worries: with the presidential elections just three months away, what will be this extremist’s next political within the PDI-P party? Rival politicians have attacked Widodo and his team for accepting Purnama into their party. So far, Widodo and Ma’ruf Amin, who are currently running for President and Vice President, have held a neutral stance towards BTP.
There is speculation that BTP will attract votes from former followers, but Jokowi will may well receive backlash for having an ex-convict as part of his campaign team.