Jakarta gets first Chinese governor

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) congratulates Jakarta's new governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (L), also known as Ahok, after he was sworn-in at the Palace in Jakarta on November 19, 2014.

Jakarta's first Christian governor in nearly 50 years was sworn in yesterday in the face of protests from religious hardliners opposed to a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia's most powerful political jobs.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname, Ahok, has been acting governor of the Indonesian capital since Joko Widodo stepped aside last month to become president. His term will run till 2017.

The 48-year-old is the second Christian governor to lead the predominantly Muslim city, following Henk Ngantung, who held the office from 1964 to 1965.

Hundreds of Islamic hardliners over the last few weeks have protested against the inauguration of Mr Purnama, underlining the growing religious intolerance in a nation with the world's biggest Muslim population.

Thousands of police officers were deployed around the capital this week in case of violence, but there was only a small group of peaceful protesters yesterday.

"I don't need to be approved by everyone," Mr Purnama told reporters after being sworn in by the President.

"The ones that deny me aren't Jakartans. They come from Bekasi, Depok, Bogor, which are not in my territory."

Mr Purnama, who is the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta, has a reputation for being a transparent, no-nonsense and at-times abrasive leader. The former businessman's style has been praised by residents long weary of a graft-ridden and inert bureaucracy.

Many Muslim organisations have also voiced support for the father of three, who graduated from Jakarta's Trisakti University with a degree in geological engineering.

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

Mr Joko's administration has pledged to protect all religious minorities in Indonesia, where nearly 90 per cent of the population consider themselves Muslim.

But experts believe the President will be hamstrung by Parliament, which is controlled by the opposition.

"I do not have high hopes for (Mr Joko's) administration... because Parliament is not controlled by his coalition," said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia director for Human Rights Watch.