Karina M. Tehusijarana and Gisela Swaragita, Jakarta – Former Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is to become a free man on Thursday after serving most of his two-year prison sentence for blasphemy. The events leading up to his blasphemy trial and his subsequent conviction in 2017 has had a lasting political impact on the country, but will he jump right back into the ring?
Ahok, now 52, has had a long and winding political career, but his latest letter from inside the Mobile Brigade Command (Mako Brimob) detention center in Depok, West Java may indicate a reluctance to return to the rat race.
In a letter dated Jan. 17, Ahok asked his supporters – the self-dubbed Ahokers – to call him by his initials "BTP" instead of "Ahok" after he is released.
He added that he was grateful to God for allowing him to lose the gubernatorial election and serve his prison term because he claimed if he had won he would have only become "more arrogant, ruder" and hurt the feelings of many others.
Ima Mahdiah, an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) legislative candidate and a member of Ahok's official support group, said that upon release, Ahok would speak in several seminars in a number of countries, including South Korea, the United Kingdom, France and the United States.
"[He would talk about] his life while being [in detention] in Mako [...] and some of his experience as a government official," Ima said as quoted by kompas.com.
Ahok's younger sister, Fifi Lety Indra, however, remained tight lipped about the plan. "I don't want to comment. Let him [Ahok] talk about his personal affairs later when he is released," Fifi told The Jakarta Post recently.
Ahok started his political career in 2004 when he successfully ran for the Regional Legislative Council in his home province of Bangka Belitung. In 2008, he joined the Golkar Party and was elected to the House of Representatives in 2009.
In 2012, he defected to the Gerindra Party, which backed his bid in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election with then Surakarta mayor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. He left Gerindra not long after Jokowi, who had been elected Jakarta governor, decided to challenge Gerindra Party leader Prabowo Subianto in the 2014 presidential election. Jokowi won, leaving his gubernatorial post to Ahok.
In 2016, Ahok signed a political contract with the PDI-P, which supported his reelection bid with PDI-P politician Djarot Saiful Hidayat as his running mate.
Djarot said in November that Ahok would join his party if he returned to politics. "[Ahok] said, 'If I return to politics, I will certainly join the PDI-P," Djarot said at the time.
The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) is another possible political home for Ahok. The party strongly supported Ahok throughout the 2017 election and the ensuing blasphemy trial and many of its executives are former members of Ahok's campaign team or former members of Ahok's staff when he was governor.
Rian Ernest, a PSI legislative candidate who also worked as an Ahok staffer for two years, said he hoped Ahok would take time to be with his family and rest before deciding what to do next.
"After that, whatever position Pak Ahok holds next, I'm sure he can contribute a lot to the nation," Rian told the Post. "Whether he decides to join PSI or some other political vehicle, the important thing is that he sticks to his values of uprightness, transparency and professionalism."
Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) researcher Arya Fernandez said that despite the hopeful waiting of his followers, it was unlikely that Ahok would swing back into politics right away after his release.
"It is very unlikely he would return to practical politics, such as by joining a political campaign before the election in April," he said.
According to Arya, in light of the controversy around Ahok's case, Ahok would avoid politics and his chances of being appointed to any strategic position, such as minister or regional head, were slim.
"Maybe after the presidential election, if the political atmosphere and psychology has changed, there would be a place for him," he said.
Arya added that Ahok's loyal admirers would not lose interest in him even if he did not immediately re-enter politics this year.
"What people like about Ahok are his ideas, vision, character and integrity. Even if he did not appear on the political stage, his integrity would not disappear," Arya said.