10,000 Indonesians gather to appeal for 'unity in diversity'

People take part in a rally against what they see as growing racial and religious intolerance in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, in Jakarta, Indonesia on Nov 19, 2016.
People take part in a rally against what they see as growing racial and religious intolerance in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, in Jakarta, Indonesia on Nov 19, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

More than 10,000 people gathered at the heart of Jakarta yesterday to appeal to their fellow citizens to keep faith with the country's pluralist character and not to be divided by politics, as the capital city gears up for the February gubernatorial election amid worries of growing racial and religious intolerance.

Many wore the red and white of the Indonesian flag as they sang songs, did traditional dances and listened to speeches to stress that the country must not fall to forces that threaten to pull them apart.

The Bhinneka Tunggal Ika parade yesterday was named after the country's national motto that means unity in diversity.

"We came here not to protest, but to show that we are united - bhinneka tunggal ika," a speaker on the stage told the crowd.

The gathering came two weeks after a massive street rally by Muslims near the same location, led by the hardline Islamic Defenders Front that demanded the arrest of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy against Islam. That rally turned into a riot in the evening with the burning of several police vehicles.

NEED TO BE SEEN AND HEARD

The idea behind today's movement came about when some of us had discussions and agreed that we should not stay quiet and look meek following the Nov 4 demonstration. We have to show them that we, the proponents of pluralism, exist.

MS EZKI SUYANTO, an organiser of the gathering

Mr Basuki, a Chinese-Christian better known as Ahok, said the blasphemy move was a political ploy to block him from seeking re-election in the Feb 15 race. He was formally named a suspect in the case last week in the ongoing investigation by the police.

"We don't want to be Syria. We don't want to be Afghanistan. We want to be Indonesia. Show them we cannot be divided," another speaker on the stage appealed to the cheering crowd.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, the vast majority of whom practise a moderate form of the religion.

Mr Basuki and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat are up against the Gerindra party and the Democratic Party.

Following the riot, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said that "political actors" were riding on the Nov 4 demonstration.

The parade yesterday was thus a reminder to Indonesians to come together, its organisers said.

"The idea behind today's movement came about when some of us had discussions and agreed that we should not stay quiet and look meek following the Nov 4 demonstration.

"We have to show them that we, the proponents of pluralism, exist," Ms Ezki Suyanto, an organiser of the gathering, told The Sunday Times yesterday.

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Indonesians gather in Jakarta to promote pluralism. http://str.sg/4MPG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline '10,000 Indonesians gather to appeal for 'unity in diversity''. Print Edition | Subscribe