JAKARTA Oct 10 Indonesian police on Monday
urged Muslims to stay calm and not be "provoked" by the
vandalism of a mosque in the capital, aiming to dispel fears of
growing ethnic tension in the run-up to next year's election for
the governor of Jakarta.
Over the weekend, white Christian crosses were found
spray-painted at several locations, including on the green gates
of the Al Falah Mosque in Jakarta, the largest city in the
world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.
The incident risks fueling already simmering tension ahead
of February's election, which pits the Christian and ethnic
Chinese incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, against Agus
Harimurti Yudhoyono, a son of former president Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, and the previous education minister, Anies Baswedan.
Yudhoyono and Baswedan are both Muslim in a nation where
about 90 percent of the 250-million population follows Islam.
Indonesia also has a sizeable ethnic Chinese minority, many
of whom are Buddhist. The country has a history of anti-Chinese
violence, most sharply in the late 1990s amid the political and
economic crisis that brought down authoritarian ruler Suharto.
Police were still looking for the vandal, Jakarta police
spokesman Awi Setiyono said, adding that it was uncertain
whether the act was linked to the election. "We urge the public
not to be influenced and to control themselves."
Purnama, better known by his nickname "Ahok", became
Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese governor in 2014, after
then-governor Joko Widodo stepped down to successfully run for
Hardline Muslim groups had opposed his rise to power.
Purnama has a reputation as a tough reformer, but he has
recently come under attack from several Muslim groups for
allegedly insulting the religion's holy book, the Koran.
Muhammadiyah, one of the country's biggest Muslim
organizations, had asked the police to investigate Purnama for
alleged religious defamation.
During a visit to an Indonesian island last month, Purnama
referred to a verse from the Koran that seemed to suggest it was
unIslamic to vote for a leader of a different religion,
according to a video circulated on social media.
"Insulting a religion and spreading hatred among Muslims is
a criminal case," Pedri Kasman, an official at Muhammadiyah's
youth wing, which filed the police report, told Reuters.
Purnama's words were taken out of context and incorrectly
linked to religious defamation, said Mohamad Guntur Romli, an
official of his election campaign. Political opponents had been
fanning tension ahead of the election, he added.
While most Indonesians are rational and will choose a leader
based on merit, some camps would still vote along racial or
religious lines, said Irine Gayatri, a political analyst at
government body the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
"Race and religion are a convenient tool that can easily be
exploited by political opponents," she added.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Eveline Danubrata;
Editing by Clarence Fernandez)