The Straits Times says

Mixing religion with politics in Jakarta

For two weeks now, thousands of Indonesians have been celebrating the return from Saudi Arabia of cleric Rizieq Shihab. This follows a hero's welcome the founder of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI), or Islamic Defenders Front, received at Jakarta International Airport on Nov 10. Once on the margins of Indonesian politics, the FPI, which claims a membership of five million, moved ever closer to the mainstream with its success in mobilising the 2106-2017 mass protests that led to the ouster of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is of Chinese descent and a Christian, on charges of blaspheming Islam. The movement effectively ended the political career of Mr Basuki, popularly known as Ahok.

Having tasted success, Mr Rizieq and his movement have sought to widen their role. Although he fled Indonesia in 2017 after an alleged sex scandal - charges were brought against him under the anti-pornography law that he championed - his popularity is undimmed. Last week, posters in Jakarta held up by his traffic jam-inducing supporters depicted him as a "grand imam". He has called for a "moral revolution", saying there is a need to eradicate injustice and corruption in the country. At 55, he is in the prime of his life and has political influence. Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto's unsuccessful presidential bid last year had explicit FPI backing and he remains a likely contender in 2024, when Mr Joko Widodo's constitutionally limited two terms run out. Another possible presidential contender, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, met Mr Rizieq shortly after the latter's return from Saudi Arabia. The question that troubles advocates of pluralism in Indonesia and which will be of interest to observers in the region is whether Mr Rizieq now eyes political power for himself or will he play a kingmaker's role.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2020, with the headline 'Mixing religion with politics in Jakarta'. Subscribe