Carry on with business, says Jokowi

Mr Joko speaking at the Bankers' Dinner in Jakarta on Tuesday. He assured businessmen at the event that political tension is expected during local elections and should not affect business.
Mr Joko speaking at the Bankers' Dinner in Jakarta on Tuesday. He assured businessmen at the event that political tension is expected during local elections and should not affect business.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

JAKARTA • Keep calm and carry on as usual.

That was the message from Indonesian President Joko Widodo to businesses in the country amid the rise in political temperatures caused by the ongoing election campaign for the capital city's next governor.

Speaking during Bank Indonesia's annual Bankers' Dinner on Tuesday evening, Mr Joko said that while there have been heightened political tensions following a Nov 4 mass rally by Muslims against alleged blasphemy by Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, the public has tended to exaggerate "trivial" issues.

Mr Basuki, a Christian-Chinese in the Muslim-majority country, was on Tuesday questioned by police after being named a suspect in a blasphemy investigation.

He had allegedly insulted the Quran while making a political speech, sparking anger among Muslims - both moderate and hardline - with more than 100,000 taking to the streets of Jakarta on Nov 4 demanding that Ahok be prosecuted. Mr Basuki is seeking re-election and will face off against two prominent candidates in the Feb 15 polls.

To reduce tensions, the police have banned two more planned rallies this Friday and on Dec 4, with National Police chief Tito Karnavian saying that there is a hidden agenda to overthrow the government led by President Joko through the mass rallies.

Mr Joko, also known as Jokowi, said on Tuesday that there was actually nothing to worry about as the spike in the political buzz is nothing new during elections.

"I was busy managing (the issue), but it's actually okay. The tension just gets a little bit warmer whenever there is a regional election. I experienced it myself during the 2012 gubernatorial election," Mr Joko, a former governor of Jakarta, told the hundreds of bankers, government officials and business people gathered for the dinner.

"We seem to like gossip and rumours as we tend to exaggerate trivial things. It is an obstacle for us to be optimistic," he said.

"Indonesia ranks second after China as the most optimistic country according to a recent survey, but the fact is, we sometimes appear pessimistic."

The President has previously said that "political actors" were behind the Nov 4 rally, which descended into a riot in the evening.

He asked the bankers and business people to remain optimistic about the economy and downplayed rising global uncertainty following the unexpected victory of Mr Donald Trump as the United States' next president.

A slide projected behind Mr Joko as he spoke showed the Indonesian economy - South-east Asia's largest - growing at a respectable clip of more than 5 per cent this year, compared to weaker growth in some other countries, including Malaysia and South Korea.

JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Carry on with business, says Jokowi'. Print Edition | Subscribe