Politics

Anti-Ahok Protests Shrink As Election Nears Final Stretch

Has the anger around Governor Ahok's blasphemy trial lost steam in the final weeks of the election?
March 31, 2017, 1:37pm

This morning it was quieter than usual around Indonesia's national monument MONAS. The perimeter was lined with about 20,000 police officers. At nearby Masjid Istiqlal, a couple of thousand people gathered for Friday prayer, after which they marched to Merdeka Palace and demanded the arrest and removal of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy against Islam.

This scene has already been played out many times before, with varying degrees of popularity. Last November, Jakarta saw some one of the biggest protests in decades, dubbed 411. An estimated 2.5 million people came out to demand the arrest of Jakarta's Governor, popularly known as Ahok. But this morning's protest, dubbed 313, was one of the smallest protests since charges of blasphemy were leveled against Ahok. An estimated 4,000 people came out to demand his arrest.

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"Perhaps after Jumat (Friday) prayer, people from other mosques will join in," said Muhammad Rudi, a participant of the 313 protest. "There are people joining us after the Jumat prayer, that's why you can't see them yet."

In the day's leading up, the Indonesian Islamic Front (FUI) estimated around 100,000 people would join today's protest. Even Islam Defenders Front (FPI) secretary general Habib Novel was bragging that up to 4 million people will join the 313 protest.

People at the protest today said they were out to demand that President Joko Widodo remove Governor Ahok from his post. Sahroji, a protester, said that this demonstrations wasn't as big as previous ones because of meddling from outside parties. "There were interventions from the Chief of the Jakarta Police, it's always been like that since the first protest. We were intimidated and all bus operators were prohibited from taking large groups," said Sahroji.

The night before, the leader of today's 313 protest and Secretary General of FUI Muhammad Al-Khaththath was detained by the police for treason, as confirmed by the spokesperson of Jakarta Police, Argo Yuwono.

Similar tactics by the government were used to curtail previous protests. The night before the 212 protest last December, ten people were arrested for treason. About 200,000 protesters still showed up the next day.

Many Islamic public figures said there wasn't much need for today's protest. "He [Jokowi] is always in touch with these mass organizations. I think, the protest tomorrow is unnecessary," said Leader of Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) Ma'ruf Amin to CNN Indonesia after his meeting with Jokowi on Thursday. "Don't be distracted. Trying to topple the administration is wrong and it doesn't make sense."

There seems to be a general fatigue with protests near the end of this long and drawn out election, now in its second round. Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) head Ma'ruf Amin said that the nation's energy seems to be drained by the Jakarta Governor's race, and today's meager protest might be poof of that.