Indonesian president Joko Widodo scrambles to keep country stable amid outrage over Jakarta governor

Indonesian President Joko Widodo talks to reporters after a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in Jakarta, Indonesia on Nov 5, 2016.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo talks to reporters after a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in Jakarta, Indonesia on Nov 5, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo should have been on a state visit to Australia this week, but instead spent the past two days visiting the country's armed forces and major Islamic organisations in a bid to maintain stability amid public outrage involving blasphemy allegations made against the Jakarta governor.

After visiting the headquarters of the Indonesian Army and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation's largest Muslim organisation, on Monday (Nov 7), Mr Joko, also known as Jokowi, on Tuesday paid a visit to the Police Higher Education College (PTIK) in South Jakarta and the headquarters of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim group in the country after NU, in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

In a speech before the police's top brass at PTIK, Mr Joko asked the force to remain steadfast against pressure from any group.

"The National Police is a big institution with 430,000 personnel. Therefore, do not hesitate to sternly carry out law enforcement," Mr Joko said.

"A big institution like the police must not be doubtful and discouraged when dealing with small groups, any organisations or any individuals," he added.

The President was forced to postpone his visit to Canberra, scheduled for Sunday to Tuesday (Nov 6 to 8), after more than 100,000 people took to the streets in Jakarta last Friday (Nov 4) to demand the prosecution of Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama for allegedly insulting the Quran.

The Islam Defenders Front (FPI), which strongly opposes Mr Basuki 's bid to extend his term through the upcoming Jakarta election, spearheaded the rally, which was supported by various Islamic groups, including the Muslim Students Association (HMI).

The rally, which initially ran peacefully, turned violent after dark, leaving one protester dead and several police officers injured.

Five HMI activists, including its secretary-general, have been charged with instigating the violence.

In the past two days, the President has been scrambling to maintain national stability after the Friday rally.

When addressing 2,000 military personnel on Monday (Nov 7), Mr Joko reminded them that he was the highest military commander and, therefore, they should follow his orders to not tolerate any provocations aimed at dividing the nation.

Mr Joko said that during the closed-door meeting with Muhammadiyah leaders he told them he would not tamper with the ongoing police investigation into Mr Basuki's case.

"I'd like to underline that I will not protect Basuki Tjahaja Purnama since there is already an ongoing legal process (over blasphemy allegations); the public needs to know this," Mr Joko said.

The President has instructed the National Police to run a fair and transparent investigation into Mr Basuki, but rumors that another large rally would take place in the capital in the next two weeks were already rife on Tuesday. The protesters have said they would continue their protests until Mr Basuki is jailed.

The police had promised to decide whether to charge Mr Basuki with blasphemy within two weeks of the rally.

Mr Basuki has several times sought support from Muhammadiyah and NU for different reasons, including when he was accused of not being Muslim during his presidential campaign in 2014 and also when he was severely criticised for his tough stance on drug convicts.

After assuming office, the President granted a number of positions to figures affiliated with the two organisations, including seats on the Presidential Advisory Board, known as Wantimpres, and in his Cabinet.

On Tuesday, Mr Joko reiterated his claim that "political actors" had exploited the Nov 4 rally, saying that their identities would be revealed after a thorough investigation by police.

National Police chief Gen Tito Karnavian said there was strong information about the suspected political actors who allegedly took advantage of the rally.

"There needs to be (sufficient))evidence. Once there is and it proves a clear violation occurred, we will enforce the law," said Mr Tito.