Indonesian vice president dismisses concerns about rising intolerance


Indonesia's vice president on Tuesday dismissed concerns a reputation for moderate Islam had been damaged in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country after Jakarta's Christian governor was defeated in a religiously charged election.

In an interview with journalists, Jusuf Kalla insisted religion was only one factor in last week's run-off between governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and a Muslim former government minister.

Purnama, Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor for half a century, was favourite to win until claims he insulted Islam sparked mass protests and led to him being put on trial for blasphemy in a case viewed as politically motivated. The vote was seen as a test of whether the moderate Islam traditionally practised in Indonesia was under threat from hardliners, who led the protests against Purnama, also Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese leader.

But Kalla dismissed fears Indonesia's pluralistic traditions were being eroded and that radical groups were set to become increasingly influential.

"Indonesia will stay moderate," he told journalists. "Religion is influential, yes – but that it is not the only thing (in this election)."

Kalla, 74, conceded the vote was polarising, saying even his own house was divided over who should win. But he said Purnama, known for his often abrasive style, had lost more because of his "attitude".

"Of course there is the religion factor but if his attitude (was good) I think he could have won," he said. "We don't like a leader like that."

Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, was popular for making progress in cleaning up Jakarta, but often got into trouble for his hot temper and being outspoken. The blasphemy allegations stemmed from a speech last year in which he said his rivals were tricking people into voting against him by using a Koranic verse, which some interpret as meaning Muslims should only choose Muslim leaders.

Purnama will finish his term leading Jakarta in October, when Muslim rival Anies Baswedan will take charge of the teeming metropolis of 10 million. Following the poll defeat, he may avoid jail after prosecutors in his blasphemy trial recommended only two years probation. A verdict will be handed down on 9 May.

Kalla also dismissed speculation that Purnama could be appointed a minister by his ally President Joko Widodo after losing the Jakarta governorship.

"It is completely unethical if Ahok is sentenced and is then promoted to become a minister," he said.    (AFP)

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