Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, became the Governor of Jakarta, marking the first time since 1965 the position has been filled by a member of minority religion: Christianity.
Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia, home to the largest population of Muslims in the world—almost 90% of Indonesians identify as Muslim. For half a century, Jakarta’s governors have been members of the Muslim faith. The ascension Wednesday of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama marks the first time since 1965 that the position is being filled by a member of a minority religious faith. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Hakka nickname, Ahok, is a Christian.
Despite strenuous opposition from religious hardliners that only a Muslim should hold the position, Ahok’s assumption of the office marks a seminal moment for religious inclusion and greater ethnic tolerance within Indonesia, a country that has seen a noticeable increase in violence against religious minorities, including small Islamic groups, in the last decade. The rise of the 48-year-old ethnic Chinese and Protestant Ahok, who is known to be outspoken and has a strong record of combating graft and corruption, has sparked protests, some violent, staged by those opposed to his occupancy of the role of Jakarta’s governor. Mainstream Indonesian Muslims; however, seem to be largely indifferent to Ahok’s religion.
Ahok points out that much of the opposition to his appointment stems from areas like Bekasi and Bogor, which are not part of his territory. Residents of Jakarta, subjected to a bureaucracy largely unresponsive to the needs of residents, applaud Ahok’s appointment by Indonesia’s recently instated President Joko Widodo, whose administration has vowed to protect the religious minority population throughout India. Jakarta’s residents like his somewhat abrasive leadership-style and his dedication to transparency.
Ahok gained popularity on a national scale following the release of videos on YouTube wherein he admonished city officials for their incompetence.