Non-Muslim to be sworn in as Jakarta governor despite protests

Non-Muslim to be sworn in as Jakarta governor despite protests
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (left) walks next to acting Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama at the presidential palace in Jakarta on October 22, 2014.

JAKARTA - Jakarta's first Christian governor in nearly 50 years is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, despite protests from religious hardliners opposing a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia's most powerful political jobs.

President Joko Widodo will take part in the swearing-in of Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname "Ahok", the presidential palace said.

Ahok has been serving as acting governor since Widodo stepped aside last month to become president.

Hundreds of religious hardliners have staged protests against Ahok, underlining the difficulties facing the president's battle against intolerance in a nation with the world's biggest Muslim population.

Ahok is also ethnic Chinese, a small minority that have been resented in the past for their wide control over trade and business.

Thousands of police have been deployed around the capital this week in case of violence.

Ahok's inauguration was postponed earlier this week to allow for a presidential decree on his appointment. The Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said it would take place next week, the Jakarta Globe reported on Tuesday.

It was not clear why the ceremony was moved up to Wednesday.

The secular country of 240 million people has seen a rise in attacks over the last decade against Christians, Shia Muslims and members of Ahmadiyah, a small Islamic sect.

Widodo's administration, which took office last month, has pledged to protect all religious minorities in Indonesia, where nearly 90 per cent of the population consider themselves Muslim.

But experts believe Widodo will be hamstrung by parliament, which is controlled by the opposition. "I do not have high hopes for (Widodo's) administration ... because parliament is not controlled by his coalition," said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia director for Human Rights Watch.

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