Ahok’s Blasphemy Case: Is There a Future for NKRI?

By Dr. Bambang Irawan | 11 May 2017

The Jakarta gubernatorial elections ended with Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno being declared the winners, they will serve as governor and deputy governor respectively, beginning in October this year. The incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, and his deputy, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, conceded defeat and were to continue leading Jakarta until the election winners were sworn in.

Unfortunately that is not where the story ends. Ahok, a Christian Chinese Indonesian, still had to deal with the blasphemy case in which he was accused of insulting the Al-Quran during his campaign in late 2016. Since then, his adversaries have used the case to topple him from his governor seat. Anies and Sandi also used the case in their campaigns, which arguably played a role in their victory over Ahok-Djarot. Anies and Sandi implied during the campaign that they were the logical choice to lead Jakarta since they are Muslims themselves.

On 9 May 2017, the court reached a verdict: Ahok is guilty of insulting Islam, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. This outcome came as a surprise, with many believing that Ahok would not be sent to jail although the guilty verdict was somewhat expected. Certainly the Muslim radicals, represented mostly by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who had been very persistent in demanding that Ahok must go to jail, were happy with the result. However, for the Muslim moderates, and especially the non-Muslims, the situation raises many questions and uncertainties.

The first question is related to the verdict itself, is it purely based on legal facts and principles, or has it been driven by political motives? It is well known that Ahok’s adversaries do not want him to hold any high government position as it may endanger their interests. While the prosecutor proposed a one-year jail sentence, the judges’ final verdict was two years’ imprisonment. Of course the judges may have their legal reasons, but one suspects that there was an active and politically motivated effort to put Ahok away for a longer time.

The second question relates to the legitimacy of the blasphemy case itself. Indonesia still ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, as exemplified by a case of corruption in the procurement of the Al-Quran by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It involved a kickback to high-ranked officials at the Ministry in exchange for the rights to provide copies of the holy book to schools and other institutions. The procurement was valued at around 22 billion rupiah (US$1.65 million). While those who were found guilty were sentenced to imprisonment, what is disturbing is that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) did not consider this blasphemy towards the Al-Quran. Considering that Ahok is a Christian Chinese Indonesian, one can only wonder if there was a double-standard in the MUI’s actions when issuing the fatwa against Ahok insulting the Holy Quran. It is difficult to comprehend how what Ahok did was worse than using the Al-Quran to illegally make (a lot of) money.

Lastly, the verdict of the case raises a question about the future of the nation. Indonesians, without exception, believe that the current state of the country, which is the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI) is the only acceptable form of Indonesia. The NKRI consists of many ethnic groups and religions, united under the national motto: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which literally means unity in diversity. This national motto, and the country’s five basic principles, the Pancasila, are the reasons that Indonesians are proud to be part of a nation that respects differences, allowing the people of different ethnicities and religions to live together peacefully. However, Ahok’s fall was driven by Muslim radicals, who pushed their way through and rejected others, going as far as to address the non-Muslims as kafirs (infidels), a derogatory term in Islam. Since religion played a significant role in the outcomes of the election, the Jakarta Post has labelled it “the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen.” One can only wonder if Bhinneka Tunggal Ika no longer has the same power that it used to. With the signs of radicalism and conservatism rising in Indonesia one cannot help but think: is there really a future for NKRI?