In the 1980s, dangdut singer Rhoma Irama wrote and performed the song “135 Juta” (“135 Million”), about diversity and pluralism.
The song, written when the country’s population was about 135 million, is a tribute to the diversity of the nation. Its message of tolerance is a far cry from the religious divisiveness that has taken hold of the Jakarta gubernatorial campaign. During the past few weeks, there has been a worrying rise in the use of ethnic and religious slurs in the run-up to next month’s election.
Since the start of Ramadan, clerics in many mosques have been taking to loudspeakers to tell their congregations to only vote for Muslims in the runoff vote. In the most widely reported incident, Rhoma told a crowd gathered in a mosque for Ramadan prayers that it was their “duty” to vote only for Muslims as their leaders.
Religion and politics are often two sides of the same coin in many nations. Indeed, there have been many instances when candidates have tried to appeal to members of a particular religion or ethnic group to garner votes.
But it is also easy to cross the line, and when that happens it can prove highly toxic and inflammable. This is what we must guard against and make every effort to defuse such tensions.
It is therefore heartening that the two candidates for Jakarta governor, incumbent Fauzi Bowo and Solo Mayor Joko Widodo, are trying to find the time to sit down and discuss how best to ease the rising religious and ethnic tensions. Both candidates must place a high priority on this issue despite their busy schedules.
In the heat of a political campaign, things are often said that are later regretted. In the current neck-and-neck race for the Jakarta governorship, both tickets must take care not to go overboard. It is imperative that religious and ethnic differences are kept firmly in check.