Jakarta is now in turmoil. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known in Indonesia as ‘Ahok’), until very recently a beloved and extremely effective Governor of the capital city, was sentenced on May 9, 2017 to two-years in prison, for ‘blasphemy’.
Now all major Indonesia cities are literally flooded with hundreds of thousands of protesters. They are holding candlelight vigils for one of the most popular politicians in Southeast Asia. The situation is explosive. For the first time in decades, Indonesian people had experienced hope for a much better future. They began to dream about some fundamental and progressive changes. But those hopes are rapidly vanishing into thin air.
During his short mandate, Ahok managed to do what many thought would have been impossible in his notoriously corrupt country, and especially in its capital city: he attacked fraud and sleaze frontally; he sided with the poor, providing them with public housing and various social services. He cleaned rivers and created public parks. And he began spending money on various public works, including the drainage system (the absence of which used to cause devastating floods), while accelerating the construction of a much needed public transportation system in this notoriously traffic-clogged megalopolis.
Many used to whisper: “Eventually, he will get killed.” Ahok knew he could get deposed, even murdered, and he spoke about such possibilities openly and fearlessly. “I can be bribed but only at the price of your life,” he used to joke.
He was never afraid. Propelled by his revolutionary enthusiasm, unusual in this part of the world, driven by his strong Chinese heritage determination, Ahok stood firm, against the entire rotten establishment full of shamelessly corrupt collaborators with the West; people who had already forced this once proud and progressive nation into almost total moral and social ruin.
But instead of killing the Governor, his enemies kept defaming him, attacking from all sides and hitting below the belt, holding against him his Chinese ethnicity, and finally, bringing up a ridiculous religious defamation lawsuit, during which his words were shamelessly twisted while being taken out of context.
This is the exact transcript and translation of so-called ‘contagious’ part of his pre-election speech:
“Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t vote for me because you’re being lied to by using [the Quranic chapter] Al Maidah verse 51 and so on. That’s your right. So if you feel you can’t vote [for me] because you’re afraid to go to hell after you’ve been dumbed down, that’s fine. This is your personal calling. This program will continue regardless. So, ladies and gentlemen, don’t ever feel bad that you can’t vote for Ahok.”
In the April 2017 runoff, Ahok lost to Anies Baswedan, the former Minister of Education who was fired by President Jokowi in July 2016.
For months during the election campaign, the old Indonesian elites were mobilizing, funding attacks against Ahok. Conservative religious establishment rolled up its sleeves, openly discouraging its followers from voting for the governor. Mosques put up banners, openly warning that they will not perform prayers for the deceased, if they come from families that were voting for “the blasphemer”.
Huge demonstrations organized by the radical ‘Islamic Defender’s Front’ (FPI) were shaking the country.
Hand in hand, extreme right wing ‘elites’ and radical conservative religious cadres tried to interrupt and reverse all the positive changes in the capital city.They were fighting for the survival of the near feudal regime.
Not only did Ahok lose the elections, soon after he also lost his trial and was sent directly from the Palace of the Governor of Jakarta to jail, in order to serve a two-year sentence (tougher than what the State Prosecutor was asking for).
After he arrived in prison, he was welcomed by his fans –the prison guards – who showed no respect for ‘order’ and began taking selfies with him, enthusiastically.
On May 12, 2017, Qasim Rashid wrote for The Independent, defending Ahok:
“By convicting Governor Ahok of blasphemy, Indonesia disgraces itself, violates human rights and ignores Islamic teachings… Governor Ahok is right that the Quran does not mandate Muslims to vote for a Muslim over a non-Muslim… the Quran commands Muslims to judge with justice, not religion… So, in a twist of irony, the Christian governor accused of blasphemy cited the Quran correctly, while the Muslim clerics punishing him are themselves wrong. Thus, if such clerics are that hell-bent on blasphemy laws, they should arrest themselves and set Governor Ahok free.”
This was one of several outraged reaction to the sentencing, but it came too late. It became clear that for now, the establishment had managed to score a victory.
Mr. Khairul Mahadi, a retired architect who used to work for the Jakarta Municipal Government explained:
“I see that there is a strong political push from those groups whose businesses were badly affected by Ahok’s policies and actions. I’m talking about politicians, businessmen and even members of so-called mass organizations. Ahok hit strongly at corruption and nepotism that were thriving before his time as Governor of Jakarta.
We are all disappointed because we regard Ahokas a hero in fighting corruption and reforming bureaucracy. He became a victim of power-thirsty politicians…”
Ms.Susy A. Nataliwati, a researcher of Japan-Indonesia studies, at the University of Indonesia went even further:
“I think what we are witnessing today could be called ‘justice by mobocracy’. Those who lost in the last Presidential elections, those who want to establish a caliphate in Indonesia and those whose ‘easy money businesses’ were upset, have all joined forces in order to get rid of the President.
Putting the Governor of Jakarta – Ahok- in jail is one of the first steps to reach their goal.”
Ahok-related events coincide with the rumors that a certain military wing of the Indonesian military will soon be ready to perform a coup d’état against the President, and that the United States would be, most likely, behind such an act.
In academic circles, a report by an investigative journalist Allan Nairn, written on the topic, was widely circulating. Then, on April 21, 2017 Amy Goodman interviewed Mr. Nairn, on Democracy Now:
“Indonesia is in the midst of a political crisis, in that there is an attempt to stage what people on both sides of the conflict call the coup. And this is a de facto, or even direct, coup against the elected president, the elected government of Indonesia, which is headed by President JokoWidodo, Jokowi. Jokowi was the first person from outside the political elite who ever was elected president. He’s—on certain issues, in certain respects, he’s a bit of a reformist. He got elected, in an important part because he speaks the language of the poor, and people relate to him. He has been pushing social programs on health and education. But, especially in recent months, his government has been fighting for survival. Those backing this coup project include the top generals in the country, who are seeking to escape any whisper of accountability for their past mass murders—mass murders that have been supported by the U.S.—and for their ongoing atrocities in West Papua, also the friends and business partners and political associates of Donald Trump. The local Trump people in Indonesia, including his top political backer, the politician FadliZon, including his local business partner, HaryTanoe, and others, have been funding and backing this coup movement…”
I spoke to Ms. Dina Sulaeman, a leading Indonesian left wing, and pro-Syrian academic (she herself became a target of various attacks from the right wing and from the conservative religious establishment). She showed great skepticism regarding the report:
“Allan Nairn’s report was published just one day before Mike Pence arrived in Indonesia. Trump was mentioned even in the title: “Trump’s Indonesian Allies In Bed With ISIS-Backed Militia Seeking to Oust Elected President”.
“Nairn’s report raised important questions: Is it true that there are efforts to topple Jokowi? It is possible that the partial facts are correct (that radical groups are trying to undermine the unity of the Republic of Indonesia). But the way Nairn builds his arguments: he is trying to make readers to suspect that the military [TNI] as a whole wants to overthrow the government, and I think this is a problem. For instance, Gatot [Nurmantyo, the TNI chief] in his recent speech about the unity of Indonesia talks about Syria in a very similar way as I do. Now, is Nairn saying that he, Gatot, isalso opposing Jokowi?”
I will release the full discussion with Dina Sulaeman in my upcoming reports from Indonesia. For now, it is important to concentrate on her conclusion:
“I am looking at it only from “above”, from the global hegemony context: we are following closely events whenever the public is engaged in Ahok’s case…but there are many other occurrences to which we didn’t pay much attention, unfortunately. For example, Pence’s visit: what was he really doing here?”
Could all this be an attempt to ‘threaten’ the president with a coup, in order to make him ‘behave’, to become friendlier to multi-nationals and to local ‘elites’? Was Ahok’s case a warning? And what is next?
The situation is extremely tense. Mass rallies in support of the deposed Governor may turn into riots, or to violent clashes, if the FPI tries to confront the so-called ‘silent majority’ of the long-suffering Indonesian people.
The United States is definitely on the side of the ‘elites’, as well as on the side of the mining and logging companies. In the meantime, US President Donald Trump is buying land and properties, in Bali and in Java. But exactly what game is the Empire playing?
What is the agenda of the Western media, which is covering events in the 4th most populous nation on Earth? And what role are the conservative religious cadres playing? Dina Sulaeman believes that we should look all the way to Syria, in order to find some of the answers.
Everyone agrees that right now, there are more questions than answers. But more of my reports will follow soon, as I’m heading towards Indonesia.
For now, the candles are burning on the streets of all major Indonesian cities. Their flames are delicate, but in this explosive and historically unstable country, light winds can often foretell some tremendous storms, while tiny flames could lead to devastating fires.
Andre Vltchek is philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He’s a creator of Vltchek’s World in Word and Images, a writer of revolutionary novel Aurora and several other books. He writes especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”