Election in Indonesia’s Capital Could Test Ethnic and Religious Tolerance

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the governor of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. While campaigning ahead of elections on Wednesday, Mr. Basuki, who is ethnic Chinese and a Christian, has also been defending himself in court against charges of blasphemy against Islam. Credit Darren Whiteside/Reuters

JAKARTA, Indonesia — In one of the most contentious campaigns in the history of Indonesia’s young democracy, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the governor of Jakarta, is battling on two fronts: in the court of public opinion and in the court of law.

Mr. Basuki, an ethnic Chinese Christian who leads the capital of the world’s most populous predominantly Muslim country, is not only campaigning in the election on Wednesday but also defending himself against criminal charges of blasphemy against Islam.

He and his chief political ally, President Joko Widodo, have labeled his court case a conspiracy by “political actors” who aim to quash his re-election bid for one of the country’s most powerful offices. Some political analysts also called the court case, which they say violates a decades-old ban on using ethnicity and religion as a political weapon, a move by opponents of Mr. Joko to weaken the president in the prelude to his 2019 re-election bid.

A series of rallies in Jakarta late last year that drew hundreds of thousands of hard-line Islamists, including one in November that turned violent and left one dead and hundreds injured, have eroded Mr. Basuki’s once double-digit lead.

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Mr. Basuki is only the second non-Muslim governor of Jakarta since Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands in 1945. Wednesday’s election is viewed as a test of religious as well as ethnic tolerance in the country, which has more than 190 million Muslims among its population of 250 million, as well as influential religious minorities of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

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