Leading Indonesia beyond religion

Leading Indonesia beyond religion

For several weeks, Muslim hardliners have been agitating for the chief of a sub-district in the Indonesian capital to step down because as a Christian she might not be able to serve the Muslim-majority ward well.

Even Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi weighed in, encouraging Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo to consider their demands to transfer his subordinate, Ms Susan Jasmine Zulkifli (in photo above), from Lenteng Agung to a non-Muslim kelurahan (or sub- district).

They argued that Ms Susan would not be able to understand Muslim aspirations; and hence would not be able to serve the needs of the constituents effectively.

But the governor has rightly stood his ground and refused to bow to protesters who have been demonstrating outside the sub-district office. His argument is that if he were to transfer Ms Susan whom he appointed in August after stringent tests, he would create a precedent for the future where regional officials could be removed through public protests.

According to the governor, Ms Susan's performance will be evaluated after six months based on her competence and professionalism, not her religion.

The issue of religion and leadership has not been a problem in Indonesia until very recently.

After all, Muslims accepted a non-Muslim as their leader when a Christian, Amir Sjarifuddin Harahap, became prime minister in 1947 during Sukarno's experiment with parliamentary democracy. Another prominent Christian, Benny Murdani, was commander of the armed forces from 1983 to 1988. He also served as minister of defence and security.

What baffles many in Jakarta is the insistence of Minister Gamawan that the official be removed from her position as Bu Lurah or sub-district chief of Lenteng Agung because of her religion.

The minister should have realised that there are many other government officials working in regions where the people they serve belong to a different religion. Do these officials have to be redeployed as well?

Analyst Aleksius Jemadu of Universitas Pelita Harapan commented in the Jakarta Globe on Oct 2 that "many public officials in Bali aren't Hindus but they perform quite well, and even gain respect from the local, Hindu-majority people".

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