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Meet the Indonesian mayor who refuses to bow to hard-line Islamist clerics

ABC Radio Australia - January 27, 2018

David Lipson As Indonesia prepares for provincial elections, a moderate Muslim mayor is refusing to bow to hard-line Islamist clerics who insist he has taken his town down a sinful path.

Dedi Mulyadi has built dozens of traditional Sundanese statues throughout Purwakarta, about 90 kilometres from Jakarta, in what his critics say is in "opposition to Islam".

It is a district that is 99 per cent Muslim, according to a 2013 poll, and many constituents see the statues as a form of iconography. But Mr Dedi, or Kang Dedi as he is known in the local dialect, is confident he can prevail in the upcoming gubernatorial elections.

"The biggest challenge I face in being elected [as Deputy Governor] is people who exploit religious issues," he said. "[My opponents] can't find any weakness to attack me, other than religion."

In the hunt for votes and good press, Mr Dedi drives a golf buggy around town, waving to constituents and pressing the flesh.

He meets a bamboo-seller, who complains about his sick wife and the lack of basic government health cover. Mr Dedi responds with cash, handing the man five times what the entire stash of bamboo is worth and then leaves it behind to be sold to another buyer.

"[Generosity] comes naturally to me," he laughs. "I often do things like that when I am travelling around the region. I find problems and I solve them."

'Muslims shouldn't elect an infidel'

There is a bigger problem brewing at a nearby mosque, where cleric Asep Jumaludin is giving his Friday sermon.

"If you wrongly choose a leader you have committed sin," he tells the congregation. "God has said that Muslims should not elect an infidel to be leader."

Outside, he makes it clear he was talking about Mr Dedi. "Purwakarta was an Islamic region before, but now it's become the city of statues, in opposition to Islam," he says. "[Dedi] once said the sound of a flute is more beautiful than recitals of the Quran. That's blasphemy."

Observers expect a dirty campaign

Jakarta's former Governer Basuki "Ahok" Purnama was jailed last year for blasphemy after mass protests by Islamists brought the capital to a standstill. Some fear that tactic is now being replicated in provincial elections, as a test run for the presidential runoff next year.

"Many leaders use these primordial sentiments to make sure they've got support," Philips Vermonte from the Jakarta based Centre for International Studies said. "For them this is a very important election. They have to win."

Mr Vermonte said the big political parties are already thinking about 2019, where President Joko Widodo is again expected to face former military strongman Prabowo Subianto. Most observers are expecting a dirty campaign.

Source: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2018-01-27/meet-the-indonesian-mayor-who-refuses-to-bow-to-hardline-islamist-clerics/1731692.

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