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This week in Jakarta: Science, religion and politics

This week in Jakarta: Science, religion and politics
Published 11 Mar 2016 

A solar eclipse was glimpsed in Jakarta's hazy skies this week, while the city played host to Muslim world leaders, and the governor delivered some long-awaited good news to his legions of supporters.

Despite a cloudy forecast and the usual air pollution, a partial solar eclipse could be seen over Jakarta early on Wednesday morning. Crowds gathered at the planetarium in central Jakarta, where free viewing glasses were handed out to the public. President Jokowi had planned to view the eclipse from the island of Belitung, one of the few sites in Indonesia to witness a total solar eclipse, but instead watched from the grounds of the Presidential Palace just outside the capital. He tweeted that the eclipse was 'a sign of Allah's power, of the greatness of Allah'. Other Muslims across Indonesia also performed special prayers during the eclipse. While the eclipse does hold some significance for Muslims, it is curious that the president chose to react to the phenomenon in specifically Islamic terms when the day was also marked in several other ways by Indonesia's diverse cultures and religions: Dayaks in Kalimantan performed a traditional ritual to ensure that the sun would re-emerge, central Sulawesi held an Eclipse Festival, and the whole nation had a day off to celebrate Bali's Hindu New Year, which happened to fall on the same day.

Earlier in the week, Jokowi had hosted a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Jakarta. The OIC's 5th Extraordinary Summit on Palestine concluded on Monday with a resolution and declaration confirming support for Palestinian statehood and laying a way forward to achieve it. Foreign minister Retno Marsudi at the summit reiterated Indonesia's support for a two-state solution as 'the only viable option' for the extended conflict between Israel and Palestine. A 'Jakarta Declaration' at the conclusion of the summit outlined commitments by OIC member states to end the conflict, including a proposed boycott on Israeli-made products.

However, the commitments made at the summit are not legally binding for the OIC's 57 member states, raising questions about their subsequent impact. Despite being the world's biggest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations, the OIC has long had a reputation for its weak authority and poorly defined collective identity. Indonesia's membership is a prime example of this — while the OIC was founded on the solidarity of Muslim states, Indonesia has never described itself as such. For Indonesia, the inclusive ideology of Pancasila is given primacy over Islamic identity, even with its Muslim-majority population. At the same time, Indonesia has also been an advocate of Palestinian self-determination since its own independence, and has been a member state of the OIC since it was founded in 1969, so the conclusion of this week's summit does not signal any dramatic foreign policy changes for Indonesia.

A more remarkable change in politics in Jakarta this week came from the governor's announcement that he intends to run as an independent candidate in next year's election. A grassroots group known as Teman Ahok, or 'Friends of Ahok', has spent months collecting as many as 770,000 pledges of support from Jakarta citizens for incumbent governor Ahok to join the gubernatorial race without party endorsement. But in recent weeks, Ahok has toyed with the idea of joining Jokowi's party, the PDI-P, disappointing his supporters. His decision on Monday to stick by his friends has been very well received.

Ahok was voted in as vice governor on a ticket with Jokowi in 2012, and became governor in 2014 when his partner left to run for president. Ahok later left his party — Gerindra, headed by Jokowi's presidential rival Prabowo — over a controversial bill on regional elections, and has since carried out his role as an independent. His transparent and effective leadership style has been partly attributed to his detachment from the compromises of party politics. The support of the people is likely to carry Ahok through the next election, though there's no guarantee he'll finish his five-year term. Ahok has never been shy about his aspiration to reach the presidential office, which explains why he considered taking party support. There's a possibility that the former partners Jokowi and Ahok may meet again as presidential rivals in 2019.

Photo by Risa Krisadhi/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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