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In an earlier post here I raised a number of issues associated with the evolving drama enveloping the current Jakarta Governor, Ahok. Thinking about the issue further, I think this may be a critical moment in Indonesia’s political history and deserves further scrutiny.

A quick update first. As reported here, Ahok’s trial for blasphemy has been expeditied to begin today (indeed the start is just minutes away as I type), but aside from the clearly significant personal consequences for Ahok should he be found guilty and imprisoned, I am of the view that the trial has moved beyond politics to threaten Indonesia’s entire democratic stability.

In sending Ahok to trial for blasphemy, a charge that of itself drags perceptions of Indonesia back several centuries, the state has narrowed down the subsequent outcomes to just two.

One outcome is that Ahok could be found innocent, a development that would potentially provoke waves of unrest that rock Jakarta and many other cities across the country. The political pressure on President Jokowi would be immense, and the electoral “price” of Ahok’s non-convicton could well prove politically fatal for any of Ahok’s supporters in, or seeking to attain, office.

For this reason it is more probable that Indonesia’s “politically independent” justice system will deliver Ahok a guilty verdict, but the consequences of this outcome would rightly lead to the perception that, with sufficient political pressure, anyone in Indonesia could be jailed on request. Note that “political pressure” in this context means “if a sufficient number of people take to the streets to demand an outcome undermining the rule of law”.

Indonesia’s political institutuions remain fragile, and I have serious doubts over their resilience should local anti-democratic actors, who remain prevalent and determined to achieve their goals, be handed the legal victory of imprisoning Ahok.

Indonesia still has a choice, but with the state electing to go to trial the options avaialable are now down to two. With the most likely outcome of a conviction now coming down the judicial tracks, a key element of democracy, political freedom, is suddenly in a very, very precarious position in contemporary Indonesia.

Update: An interesting account from a Chinese Malaysian who attended the 2 December rally is here, while an interpretation from an academic at the School of Government and Public Policy (SGPP), Sentul, West Java of why so many attended the rallies is here.