In early April, a huge demonstration gripped Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and one of the most populous Muslim cities in the world. Tens of thousands of white-robed protesters turned out to the center of the city, calling for the impeachment of Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, Jakarta’s first Christian governor in decades.
Ahok is a Christian of Chinese descent, which makes him a double minority in majority-Muslim Indonesia. Ever since he was first promoted to governor in 2014 after his running mate left the post to run for president, hardline Muslim groups have mobilized against him, arguing that a Quranic verse called the al-Maidah forbids Muslims from having Christian leaders. Ahok, a notoriously hardheaded politician, took to the campaign trail to vigorously contest the validity of this interpretation of the Quran. In November, Ahok was charged with blasphemy after telling Muslim audiences that they shouldn’t be misled by imams who say Muslims are forbidden to vote for non-believers. (The trial is ongoing.)
With Ahok up for election on April 19, one of the fundamental questions the election poses is whether Jakartans are willing to vote for a Christian as governor. His Muslim opponent, Anies Baswedan, has said that he, personally, would never support a Christian for the role. With the political camps so neatly divided—Ahok’s coalition represents pluralism; Baswedan’s represents conservative political Islam—this election has become a major referendum on the strength of diversity in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country. Polling suggests the race is extremely tight and could go either way.