During the period from 2012-2014 when now-President Joko Widodo served as governor of Jakarta alongside his vice governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, the pair of political mavericks were known for acting like both trusted partners and close friends. Despite Jokowi seemingly abandoning his former right-hand man after Ahok’s blasphemy controversy blew up and led to his imprisonment, Ahok still wants people to know that they should support his former boss in next year’s election.
That was the message contained in a handwritten letter Ahok — sent from his cell in the Mako Brimob detention facility where he is currently serving out his two-year sentence for blasphemy — to GKJO (Galang Kemajuan Jokowi or Jokowi Progress Movement), a volunteer group for Jokowi supporters. A photo of the letter has recently been making the rounds on Indonesian social media.
“Continue to fight for Pak Jokowi’s second period,” reads the brief note, dated July 24 and containing Ahok’s distinctive signature.
The letter is notable for a few reasons. For one, Ahok has not made any statements about the country’s politics since he was imprisoned in May of last year following his sentencing at the conclusion of his highly controversial blasphemy trial. Many observers agree that the trumped up charges that Ahok had insulted the Quran had also been instrumental in him losing the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race to Anies Baswedan (one of Baswedan’s campaign managers recently admitted to taking advantage of the scandal as a key component of their winning strategy).
President Jokowi was criticized by some for not doing more to protect his former vice governor, but many also understood the political reality that showing supporting for Ahok would open him up to the same time of attacks by Islamist hardliners that had led to Ahok’s downfall.
The letter is also notable as being one of the first messages we’ve heard from Ahok since his lawyers announced that he would not be seeking parole, despite being eligible for early release as soon as August. Many have speculated that the former Jakarta governor chose to stay in prison as his parole would inevitably cause controversy and could lead to accusations of favoritism by Jokowi’s administration that could potentially lead to serious problems for the incumbent in next year’s election.
Without parole, one prison official estimated that Ahok would only be released from jail on April 23, 2019 (just a few days after the elections).
Some optimistic Ahok supporters are still holding out hope that he could somehow return to politics after his prison sentence is complete, perhaps even with a position in the second Jokowi administration. Such an outcome still seems like wishful thinking, but you never know when it comes to Indonesian politics.