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Indonesia: Chinese Christian Installed as Jakarta's Governor Despite Violent Islamic Protests

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Chinese Christian Jakarta Governor
Religious hardliners have staged rallies against Mr Basuki (right, with Mr Widodo) becoming Governor, contending that as a Christian and ethnic Chinese, he should not be allowed to govern the capital city of a Muslim-majority country. Photo: REUTERS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has appointed an ethnic Chinese Christian man as the governor of Jakarta, angering hardline Muslims in the country.

According to a Reuters report, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname "Ahok", has been acting governor of the Indonesian capital since Widodo stepped aside last month to become president of Indonesia. Purnama, 48, would be considered the first governor of Jakarta who is of ethnic Chinese descent.

"I don't need to be approved by everyone," Purnama said after being sworn in by the president. "The ones that deny me aren't Jakartans. They come from Bekasi, Depok, Bogor, which are not in my territory."

Despite violent protests by some hardline Islamic groups and threats of a legislative boycott, the ceremony, which was broadcasted live in Indonesia according to an article from Today Online, went off in a relatively peaceful manner on Wednesday.

"I promise to fulfil my obligations as a governor to the best of my ability and I will uphold Indonesia's 1945 Constitution and implement all regulations fairly," Purnama said when he took the oath of office.

Reuters noted that Purnama, a Chinese Christian Protestant, "has a reputation for being a transparent, no-nonsense and at times abrasive leader," adding that local Jakarta residents like his governing style in a city full of grafts and inert bureaucracy.

It's considered a controversial decision by Widodo for a nation where the majority of its population of 250 million people is 87 percent Muslim, according to Niniek Karmini of the Associated Press. Christians, on the other hand, make up about 10 percent of the population and are spread out unevenly across the Indonesian archipelago, most notably in northern and eastern islands.

Karmini stated that according to Indonesian law, the deputy governor replaces the governor if he leaves his post.

Purnama may be the first ethnic Chinese man to lead Jakarta, but he's not the first Christian to lead this cosmopolitan city. Karmini wrote that Jakarta's first Christian governor was Henk Ngantung, who served from 1964 to 1965.

Ethnic and religious tensions, especially on minority groups, have been a part of Indonesia's history. According to Yenni Kwok of Time Magazine, Widodo, an Indonesian Muslim, faced accusations during the presidential election earlier this year that he was both Christian and of Chinese descent.

Kwok reports that although hardline Muslim groups say they only want to be led by other Muslims, the mainstream Muslim population, including Indonesian's largest Islamic mass organization Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), has thrown their support behind Purnama.

"As long as he is just and siding with the people, he is our governor," said NU chairman Saiq Aqil Siradj last week.

Siradj added that leaders should be evaluated based on honesty and dedication as opposed to religion.

The Associated Press reports that although ethnic Chinese make about 15 percent of the country, they were subject to government discrimination during President Suharto's dictatorship, which ended in 1998.

Tags : Indonesia, Jakarta, Joko Widodo, Widodo, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Ahok, Chinese Christian, Jakarta governor, Chinese Protestant, Muslim, Indonesian Muslims