Indonesian capital gets a Christian governor

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 8:06 AM
Indonesian capital gets a Christian governor

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The first Christian governor of Indonesia's capital in 50 years was sworn in Wednesday despite loud protests from Islamic hard-liners who insisted Jakarta's top political job should go to a Muslim.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Protestant who is also the first ethnic Chinese to become an Indonesian governor, gained a reputation as deputy governor of being outspoken and combating corruption and cutting red tape. He is better known by Chinese nickname "Ahok."

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and 87 percent of its 250 million people are Muslim. Christians make up about 10 percent.

Purnama, 48, took the oath of office in a ceremony presided over by President Joko Widodo — the city's previous leader before he became president last month — at the state palace in Jakarta, where 10,000 police and soldiers were deployed for security. Purnama's term runs until 2017.

Under Indonesian law, if a governor leaves his post he is replaced by the deputy governor.

Islamic hard-liners have held street protests against Purnama's installment as leader of the city of 12 million. The Islamic Defenders Front, a hard-line group known by its Indonesian acronym FPI, has vowed to stage weekly protests against him. FPI has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups.

Jakarta's first Christian governor was Henk Ngantung, who served from 1964 to 1965. Christians are spread out unevenly across the Indonesian archipelago, with larger concentrations in northern Sulawesi island and some other eastern islands.

Born as Zhong Wan Xie, Purnama was elected to Indonesia's legislature in 2009, and was installed as Jakarta deputy governor three years later.

Ethnic Chinese make about 15 percent of the country, and were subject to government discrimination during the dictatorship of President Suharto that ended in 1998.