Indonesia had one of her most defining elections on July 9, when the citizens of the world’s third largest democracy and the largest Muslim community, voted for a successor to current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will complete his final term this year. The elections saw a fierce contest between two equally strong candidates-Jakarta’s Governor Joko Widodo and former army general Prabowo Subianto. Perhaps more significantly, however, it has the potential to present a new chapter for good governance and religious freedom in this archipelago of 240 million people.
On July 22, the General Elections Commission (KPU) announced Joko Widodo’s victory by a narrow margin of 6.3 percent or 8.4 million votes, bringing a wave of hope for Indonesian minority groups, including Christians.
Joko Widodo, affectionately called Jokowi, is a former entrepreneur who entered the political arena when he became the city mayor of Solo in Central Java province. During his tenure as mayor, he brought order to the town plan and boosted the local government’s performance in serving the society. His administration was hailed as a breakthrough; most public offices in Indonesia are fraught with corruption, bureaucracy, complacency, and inefficiency.
His reputation for good governance in Solo paved the way to the governorship of the capital city of Jakarta in October 2012. For almost two years, Jokowi and his Christian deputy pioneered reforms in multiple sectors of the metropolitan, including economic growth, health and education systems, and good governance. Jokowi’s achievements landed him a spot among Fortune’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders.
Though his election brings hope to many in Indonesia, many are wondering if he will have the courage to face the ongoing issue of religious intolerance, which has long been avoided by his predecessors. Last year, two Christian brothers were sentenced to three years in prison upon accusations of teaching false Islam. Between Dec 2013 and July 2014, over 27 churches were closed, ransacked, or burned across the country. Because of the ongoing religious restrictions and church closures, Indonesia ranks 47th on the 2014 World Watch List-a ranking list of 50 countries where Christians are most oppressed for their faith.
“Jokowi is a law abiding man,” Christian political scholar Victor Silaen shared with Open Doors. If a church has fulfilled the requirements and still been denied a permit due to law-violating local officials, they can report it to a higher authority all the way to the president. “I believe Jokowi will pay heed to that matter as he always has,” he said.
Christians and other minority groups have gained new hope for good governance during Jokowi’s time as governor of Jakarta. Pragmatic thinkers who value professionalism, he and his deputy designed a new recruitment system called role auction for appointing public officials. In essence, anyone with the right set of skills and credentials can compete for a role in the city’s administration-another promising breakthrough in a system where most authorities are selected not on a basis of merits, but of seniority and connection with people in high places.
The most controversial auction took place in Aug 2013. A Christian civil servant, Susan Jasmine Zulkifli was appointed as chief over one of Jakarta’s sub-districts. Fundamentalists quickly challenged her leadership, demanding that the Muslim-majority community be led by one of their own. In response, Jokowi calmed the community while keeping Chief Susan in the position. In a presidential debate, he quoted this case as a symbol of Indonesia’s religious diversity, which he promised to uphold.
Jokowi is determined to bring the spirit of fair, credential-based recruitment and appointment to the national arena. He plans to fill the ministerial cabinet with high caliber professionals regardless of their religious backgrounds. In this respect, Christians can take heart as they too, will have a shot at government positions and making influential decisions. “It’s a good beginning toward religious freedom, not only for Christians, but for all religious groups,” added Mr. Silaen.
However, things are not as smooth as they seem as the electoral vote counting process is still being contested. While broadcasting the quick count results, TV stations and survey institutions disagreed on the winning team depending on their candidate of choice. By the time Jokowi was declared the official winner; Prabowo had rejected the commission’s decision and filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court, alleging that Jokowi’s supporters had tampered with the results. The final judgment will be announced on August 22, and the victor will be inaugurated on October 22.
Thank You, Father, for this bright ray of hope in Indonesia. If Jokowi is indeed declared President of the country, we pray that he will continue to act with godly integrity and wisdom. Thank You for the good testimony of his service in Jakarta, and we pray for his strong influence in bringing about diversity and justice in the nation, as well. We think especially of the difficulty churches have had in obtaining permits to build. Father, use this man to pave the way to eliminate corruption among local officials and establish equity in the process. Christianity is but a tiny ray of light now, but we pray that the gospel will go forth in great might in Indonesia; that the light of Christ might shine brightly upon the land and bring glory to Christ. In the name of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords in Indonesia and all the world, Amen.