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Ahok: The rise and fall of Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese governor

Belitung-born Basuki Tjahaja Purnama rocketed to prominence as Jakarta’s first Governor of ethnic Chinese descent.


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Updated: April 9, 2018

A few years later, he found himself behind bars on charges of blasphemy.

The businessman-turned-politician’s rise and fall made headlines around the world, raising questions about religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Basuki, often referred to by his Hakka nickname “Ahok,” began his career in politics as a member of the New Indonesia Alliance Party (PPIB) in 2003, becoming first the chairman of the party’s East Belitung Chapter before being elected to the East Belitung Council and becoming Regent of East Belitung in 2005.

He resigned from the party in 2007 following an unsuccessful campaign in the Bangka Belitung gubernatorial election, before joining the Golkar Party in 2008. The following year, he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives.

Then, in 2011, he set his eye on a larger prize – becoming the governor of Jakarta, but ultimately decided against running as an independent candidate.

He then jumped ship from the Golkar party to the Gerindra party to run alongside current Indonesian President Joko Widodo in the gubernatorial election the following year. The pair won a decisive victory and were sworn into office as Governor and Deputy Governor in October 2012.

In 2014, Joko Widodo made his bid for the presidency, leaving Ahok to assume the role of governor of Jakarta in his absence. When Joko Widodo became President, he was sworn in as governor, making international headlines.

As Jakarta’s first Chinese-Indonesian governor, and the first Christian governor since Henk Ngantung in the sixties, his new position was seen as a step forward in a nation with a history of discrimination and violence against the Chinese, an ethnic minority.

However, these tensions would surface again during his 2017 campaign to be re-elected governor.

While addressing citizens of the Thousand Islands, Basuki made a critical mistake by suggesting that some may not vote for him because they had been misled by those using a verse in the Quran to argue that Muslims should not select a non-Muslim leader.

A video recording of the speech was later edited by university lecturer Buni Yani in a way that distorted Basuki’s original message. The result was a viral clip that sparked widespread outrage over what was perceived as an insult on the Quran.

When the dust finally settled, Basuki not only lost the election to Muslim candidate Anies Baswedan, but found himself in court facing charges of blasphemy following massive street protests demanding that he be jailed for his offence.

The former governor was eventually sentenced to two years in prison, a verdict which was slammed by human rights groups and celebrated by his critics. Basuki decided against appealing the verdict, but recently requested a case review following Buni Yani’s legal conviction for tampering with footage of the speech.

The Supreme Court rejected the request.



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Nadia Chevroulet
About the Author: Nadia is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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