Talking Indonesia: Ahok, race, religion & democracy

For more than a month, Indonesian politics has been gripped by a spiralling controversy over comments made by incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, a Christian and an ethnic Chinese Indonesian. The governor told officials that they had been deceived by people using a Qur’anic verse, Al-Ma’idah 51, which some Muslims interpret as forbidding Muslims from taking non-Muslims as their leaders. This controversy has now culminated in police declaring Ahok a suspect in a blasphemy case, although he will still continue as a candidate in next February’s gubernatorial elections.


Why have Ahok’s comments provoked such an intense reaction in Indonesia, and what can we learn from this case about the position of non-Muslims and ethnic Chinese Indonesians in Indonesian democracy?


In this week’s Talking Indonesia podcast, I explore these issues with Dr Nadirsyah Hosen, senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University, and chair of the advisory board for the Australia-New Zealand branch of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation. Dr Hosen’s book chapter, “Race and Religion in the 2012 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election” can be found in the new book, Religion, Law and Intolerance in Indonesia, edited by Tim Lindsey and Helen Pausacker.


Look out for a new Talking Indonesia podcast every fortnight, hosted alternately by Dr Dave McRae and Dr Ken Setiawan. Catch up on previous episodes here, subscribe via iTunes or listen via your favourite podcasting app.


Photo by Sigid Kurniawan for Antara Foto.

Dave McRae is a Senior Lecturer at the Asia Institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. He is also an Associate at the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society.