Christian governor of Jakarta ousted after tense election in world’s biggest Muslim country – Los Angeles Times

The winner of Jakarta's gubernatorial election Anies Baswedan (left) embraces running-mate Sandiaga Uno at their campaign headquarters in central Jakarta on April 19 (Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — In a campaign laced with religious and ethnic tensions, the minority Christian governor of Indonesia’s sprawling capital was unseated by a former education minister backed by conservative Islamists, unofficial results showed Wednesday. With nearly all the votes counted, Indonesian polling companies said Anies Baswedan won around 60% of the vote in a runoff election to lead the city of 10 million people, soundly defeating incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent. The bitter campaign evolved into a test of ethnic and religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, long seen as a bastion of moderate Islam. Purnama, better known as “Ahok,” is facing blasphemy charges over remarks that allegedly insulted Islam’s holy book, the Koran. Hundreds of thousands of Islamist demonstrators took to the streets during the campaign, demanding that Purnama be jailed.

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Indonesia’s indigenous leaders press land claims – RTE World Report

Traditional regalia on display at Tanjung Gusto in North Sumatra (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

TANJUNG GUSTO — Coming from all over Indonesia, vividly-garbed traditional dancers yelled ‘horas’, which means hello in the Batak language of north Sumatra. But the pageantry could not mask their disappointment at being snubbed by the country’s president. Hundreds of Indonesia’s tribal leaders had traveled to Tanjung Gusto, a small village on Sumatra, the biggest of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. They arrived with high expectations that the government was about to grant at least some of their demands for control of what they claim as their ancestral lands.

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Leicester lessons for Asia’s European soccer investors – Nikkei Asian Review

Football gamblers watching opening day of 2013-14 English football season in Tamwe, Rangoon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — If Claudio Ranieri was in front of a television when English Premier League soccer champions Leicester City hosted five-times European club champions Liverpool on Feb. 27, the mild-mannered Italian might have been tempted into an uncharacteristic show of anger. The 65-year-old had been sacked as team manager three days previously by Leicester City’s billionaire Thai owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, founder of the King Power Group chain of duty-free shops. After a series of tepid losses, the team had been dragged into a struggle with a half dozen rivals desperate to stave off relegation from the premier league to the less high-profile English Championship, where Leicester City had languished for a decade prior to 2014. But with Ranieri gone, the team rediscovered the verve that brought them success the previous year. Ranieri’s ex-charges followed their comfortable 3-1 win over Liverpool with a March 4 victory over Hull City by the same margin.

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Jakarta’s municipal election, a test of Muslim-Christian relations, goes to a runoff – Los Angeles Times

Woman voting at polling station in central Jakarta in the city's Feb. 15 gubernatorial elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After a tense campaign marred by religious protests and phone-tapping allegations made by a former president, Indonesia’s capital will have to wait two more months to learn who will run the city of 10 million people. Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok,” will face a runoff election in April against a former education minister who was backed by Islamist protesters, turning the election into a test of religious tolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent and an ally of President Joko Widodo, won around 40% of the votes cast Wednesday according to preliminary counts. That was roughly the same as his rival, Anies Basdewan, a Muslim whose reformist credentials came under scrutiny when Islamist supporters sought to have the sitting governor jailed over a speech in which he allegedly insulted Islam.

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Philippines’ Catholic leaders grapple with Duterte presidency – National Catholic Register

Rodrigo Duterte (red shirt) speaking at Manila’s Rizal Park on May 7, 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s succession of tirades against the country’s Catholic Church leaders, bishops hardly expected a presidential climb down, even after their entreaty asking the government to ease up on a violent anti-drugs campaign. In less than eight months, more than 7,600 people, mostly drug traffickers and drug users, have been executed extrajudicially, often by a gunshot to the head, their bodies left on the blood-strewn street as a warning. Some have been killed in police operations and some have been murdered by unidentified paramilitary squads. The bloodshed prompted a February pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which said, “This traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. But the solution does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers.”

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Tepid end to Jakarta election campaign – Nikkei Asian Review

Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat meet supporters after a televised Feb. 10 candidate debate (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — A tumultuous election campaign for the job of running one of the world’s biggest, most traffic-clogged and flood-prone cities drew to a relatively placid close over the final weekend before the Feb. 15 vote. Candidates in the race for the Jakarta governorship ended a last televised debate by grinning cheek-to-cheek in a group selfie photograph. As staged as it was, it was a rare cordial moment in a combative campaign. It came the day before Islamist groups held a last-ditch rally against the sitting governor, who they accuse of blasphemy. The rally drew a much smaller turnout than the hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to two similar protests in late 2016 against the incumbent governor, adding to the sense that the contentious election campaign had left participants drained. “It has been divisive but I am happy that the debate in the end is focusing on policies and programs, it takes the tensions down a bit,” said Sandiaga Uno, a candidate for vice governor and running mate of Anies Baswedan, one of two challengers seeking to oust the embattled incumbent, Bakuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok.”

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Who will speak up for Myanmar’s unwanted Rohingya? – National Catholic Register

Rohingya child at Thay Chaung fish market inside a Rohingya ghetto near Sittwe. The nearby docks are a departure point for Rohingya refugees going by boat to Thailand and Malaysia (Photo; Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — Numbering around 1 million people living in western Myanmar, along with several hundred thousand refugees and migrants in neighboring countries, there are few peoples in the world as marooned as the Muslim Rohingya. Most are stateless, denied citizenship by Myanmar due to a 1982 law dictated while the country, then known as Burma, was run by the army. But the end of dictatorship in 2011 and the rise to power of an elected government last year — headed by one of the world’s best-known former political prisoners Aung San Suu Kyi — has done little to help the Rohingya. “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” said Pope Francis in his latest weekly audience Feb. 8.

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Pressure grows on Aung San Suu Kyi over Rohingya – RTÉ World Report

U.K. foreign secretary Boris Johnson at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda on  Jan. 21 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON – More than a year after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in Burma’s first valid national election in a quarter century, the former political prisoner is looking increasingly aloof from her own history as a victim of human rights abuses. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority in the west of Burma, or Myanmar as it is officially called, is well known. Denied citizenship and regarded as Bengali immigrants, the Rohingya not only have been subject to decades of official discrimination but have been largely scorned and ostracized by most Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal opinion on the Rohingya is unknown, she says little to the press these days, but since taking up her role as Burma’s de facto leader last year, she has done little to alleviate their plight — bar ask officials not to refer to them as “Bengali,” a term the Rohingya do not accept as it implies that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.

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Malaysian pop star makes waves in the West – Nikkei Asian Review

Yuna Zarai during an interview in Jakarta (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — When Yunalis Zarai saw a picture of herself loom large over a New York landmark in late November, she was understandably elated. “Your Kedah-born girl just went up on the @NASDAQ billboard in Times Square New York today,” the 30-year-old singer-songwriter tweeted, with an accompanying snapshot of the signage. “Every month, the billboard will feature artistes to promote their music, so this month it’s my turn,” she explained. Professionally known as Yuna, her third album “Chapters” was ranked among the Top 10 Critics’ Choice R&B records of 2016 by Billboard, alongside albums by Beyonce, John Legend and Rihanna. The U.S. magazine compared her to Sade, a 1980s Nigerian-British singer-songwriter who sold 50 million records, including such hits as “Smooth Operator.” Yuna’s musical style and voice also has been likened to hit singers Norah Jones and Adele.

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The Islamist challenge to Jokowi – Foreign Affairs

Protestor praying during Dec. 2 2016 Islamist protest against the Jakarta governor, a Chinese-Indonesian Christian known by his nickname ' Ahok.'  In the background is Indonesia's National Monument, or Monas (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Around lunchtime on December 2, the skies opened over Jakarta. But the downpour was probably the last thing on Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s mind as he strolled the few hundred yards from the presidential palace to a nearby plaza, where an estimated half a million Islamist protesters were chanting for the arrest of one of his political allies. Such blusukan — casual walkabouts in markets and villages—were a key part of Widodo’s electioneering and made him seem a down-to-earth man of the people in voters’ eyes. All the same, the protesters were taken aback by the president’s gate-crashing, especially when he joined their ranks, which included some of Indonesia’s most hard-line Islamist leaders, for Friday prayers. “Jokowi,” as the president is known, commended the drenched crowd for assembling peacefully, interspersing his brief cameo with cries of “Allahu Akbar,” and prayed with Habib Rizieq Shihab, the head of the shadowy Islamic Defenders Front, known as the FPI, an Indonesian acronym. One protester, who gave his name as Ahmad, said that he was very surprised, but that “it was good that Jokowi spoke; it helps Indonesia be united.” Ahmad said that he had flown in from Bali, a majority Hindu holiday island, to attend the demonstration. The target of his and the other protesters’ ire was Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama], who was deputy governor of Jakarta and was elevated to the governorship in 2014 when Widodo, who had held the post, became president. Purnama is a Christian of Chinese descent, a blunt and forceful outsider running the capital of the country with the world’s biggest Muslim population.

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