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Some Islamic groups uneasy as Jakarta set for ethnic Chinese governor

Basuki Tjajaha Purnama, 48, will be Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese Christian governor, but his rise to the top post is already facing rejection from some hardline Islamic groups.

JAKARTA: As the Constitutional Court ruling on ex-general Prabowo Subianto's election challenge solidified Jakarta governor Joko Widodo as Indonesia's next president, his deputy governor will automatically take over the helm of one of Asia's largest metropolitan cities.

Basuki Tjajaha Purnama, 48, will be Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese Christian governor, but his rise to the top post is already facing rejection from some hardline Islamic groups. Mr Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, will become Jakarta's next governor, the capital city in the world's largest Muslim majority country. The position is commonly considered as the country's third most influential behind the president and vice president, and the idea of having a non-Muslim leader is making some hardline groups feel uneasy.

The Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) believes Islamic teachings cite that a majority Muslim country should be ruled by fellow Muslim. They also perceive Mr Purnama's sometime abrasive and no nonsense attitude as arrogant and insensitive.

Novel Bamu’min, Jakarta Chapter Secretary General of the FPI, said: "Ahok doesn't understand Islam. A majority of Jakarta residents uphold religious teachings but what Ahok has done offended many Muslims. His policies including wanting to erase the religious description on national identity cards and his ideas to establish a red light district for prostitution is rejected by Muslims."

Mr Purnama, a former businessman, entered politics to fight corruption when bureaucrats made it hard for him to run a business. He was a regent in his hometown province and a legislator before he became Jakarta's deputy governor. Ethnically Chinese, he has survived the 1998 race riots and endured racial slurs during the Gubernatorial race in 2012.

Indonesians see him as the person who could possibly dispel the long-held prejudices that ethnic Chinese are more business oriented and unpatriotic, and his reform policies have earned praise from some Jakarta residents.

One Jakarta resident said: "I prefer to judge a person by their merit. If he is doing the public good, there should be no problem for him to become governor regardless of his religious background." Another resident said: "We should not consider someone merely based on one's ethnic, religious and racial background. His leadership shows me that he can become a good leader."

There is hope among Jakarta residents that the city's chronic problems will be better solved with Mr Purnama as Jakarta governor. His former boss and now president-elect Mr Widodo can help support development programs that require central government assistance and persuade leaders of neighbouring provinces to work together to find a solution for Jakarta and its satellite cities. 

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