Can Ahok rise from the ashes of his blasphemy conviction

Ahok has filed for divorce. It is the latest misfortune in a long string of unfortunate events for Ahok.

By Oliver Ward

Former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is back in the spotlight. The courts convicted him of blasphemy almost a year ago. Now he has filed for divorce from his wife, Veronica Tan.

It could be a new dawn for Ahok

Ahok could view the divorce as the latest in a string of misfortunes. He lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election. Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians protested in the streets to demand his incarceration. Then he received a two-year prison sentence. But this should be a new dawn for Ahok.

Ahok’s conviction divided the Jakarta public. Human rights activists challenged the verdict, as did several Muslim scholars. But Ahok did not appeal his conviction. In doing so, he could put the conviction behind him. Ahok could be eligible for release in August. He will come out ready to make a political comeback.

Picture from Netral News

He still commands support

In December 2017, Foreign Policy magazine named Ahok as one of the top 100 global thinkers. His lawyer I Wayan Sudirta told reporters, “he receives on average 20 letters a day”. He added, “He’s now stronger, closer to God and more convinced that this is a test from God that he must overcome”.

A test from God or not, Ahok is resilient. He still draws significant support from Indonesian millennials. Indonesian millennials are looking for a new face to represent them in politics. Of the top political contenders, only Ahok and Ridwan Kamil were born after 1965. Ahok already has a strong, organised support base online. He can use this to launch a strong political comeback.

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) appeals to Ahok’s supporters

The PSI has many Ahok supporters among its ranks. It wants to contest the 2019 election by appealing to the millennial vote. The party appeals to the entrepreneurial spirit of Indonesia’s youth. Prominent YouTubers spoke about starting a digital business at a recent PSI event.

The PSI is gaining traction, but they lack experienced leaders. They want to challenge the established political leadership. Ahok could be the man to lead them. He already represents a break from the political elite of Indonesian politics. The political establishment locked him behind bars. He will have been through a divorce. An experienced leader like Ahok would be a strong addition to the political rookies of the PSI.

The party will also benefit from a generational shift

The PSI and Ahok will gain from Indonesia’s shifting population. They both appeal to young voters. As the Indonesian population becomes younger, they will reap the political benefits. In 2019, 52.7% of Indonesia’s total population will be over 39. By 2024 this will be just 36.3%.

The 2019 election may be out of PSI’s reach. But the party will benefit from the generational shift. It could be a force to be reckoned with in 2024.

The legendary phoenix bursts into flames and is reborn from the ashes. Ahok has a prime opportunity to do the same. Few political careers end with street protests, incarceration, and divorce. It truly was the political equivalent of going down in a ball of flames. But with a strong support base and a shifting population, Ahok can rise from the ashes.