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Political freedom has gone too far: Joko

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Sectarianism distracting government from pursuing economic growth, says Indonesian president

JAKARTA: Political freedom in Indonesia has led to widespread sectarianism in recent months, which has distracted the government from pursuing much needed economic growth, said President Joko Widodo.

"Over the last four to five months, we have wasted our energy and forgotten about matters relating to our economic progress," he said.

"It is important for me to convey this point, let's not jeopardise our progress by failing to focus (on economic growth)."

His remarks at a People's Conscience Party (Hanura) event on Wednesday evening was a veiled rebuke of the series of protests against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, led by conservative Muslim groups starting last October.

"Many have asked me if our democracy had gone too far, I replied 'yes'," Mr Joko was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post yesterday.

"Political freedom has opened the door for extreme politics, such as liberalism, fundwamentalism, sectarianism, radicalism, terrorism and other ideologies that contradict Pancasila."

Pancasila is Indonesia's national ideology which, among others, promotes democracy and diversity, values many believe have contributed to the success and progress of the Muslim-majority nation.


The capital Jakarta, however, has seen five street rallies and mass prayers held in as many months by the Forum of Muslims and the hardline Islamic Defenders' Front, to call for the arrest of Basuki for insulting Islam.

The Chinese-Christian governor has been on trial for blasphemy since December last year while in the midst of his campaign for re-election which is heading into a run-off in April.

The issue of race and religion was played out during the first round of polls last Wednesday, with Basuki's opponents - who are all Muslims - often playing the religion card.

These incidents have not only put Indonesia's racial and religious tolerance to the test but have also threatened its stability, hit consumer confidence and raised concerns among foreign investors.

South-east Asia's largest economy expanded just under 5 per cent last year, missing the target of 5.2 per cent because of a reduction in state spending.

According to figures realised earlier this month, growth in the fourth quarter last year was just under 5 per cent, the country's second consecutive quarter of a slowdown.

Mr Joko had pledged to revive Indonesia's economy when elected in 2014, with an ambitious target of 7 per cent growth annually, but this looks beyond his reach now.

Earlier this week, he also expressed concerns over rising inflation this year.

"I fear that if we do not exercise caution this year, we will not be able to maintain the inflation rate of 3 to 3.5 per cent," he said on Tuesday, adding that he has ordered the Trade Ministry to closely monitor the supply of basic commodities to keep prices in check.

Joko WidodopoliticsEconomy