November 22, 2019 / 2:05 PM / 13 days ago

Convicted Christian politician to oversee Indonesia's Pertamina

JAKARTA, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Jakarta’s former governor, a Christian who was convicted for insulting Islam, will oversee Indonesia’s state energy company Pertamina, a minister said on Friday.

The appointment marks a swift return to a public post for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was released from jail in January after serving nearly two years for blasphemy.

His sentencing in 2017 in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country stirred international condemnation and accusations that he had been politically targeted.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had decided that Purnama would become a president commissioner in Pertamina, state-owned enterprises minister Erick Thohir told reporters in televised remarks.

Thohir said Pertamina needed to meet a series of targets including cutting energy imports and upgrading refineries.

“We need a breakthrough figure to put all of this in line with the targets,” Thohir said.

Purnama, an ethnic Chinese popularly known as “Ahok”, will head a board of commissioners overseeing the troubled state energy company.

Once a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Indonesia has seen its crude oil output dwindle and is now Southeast Asia’s biggest fuel importer. The last time it built a major refinery was about 25 years ago.

While on a trip in 2016, the then Jakarta governor Purnama said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim.

An incorrectly subtitled video of his comments later went viral, helping spark demonstrations that ultimately led to his being brought to trial while he campaigned in city elections. He denied the charges. But his conviction marked a stunning downfall for the close ally of President Widodo. Brash and unafraid to take on the moneyed elite, he was widely admired for his no-nonsense drive to modernise a chaotic city long plagued by traffic and flooding.

But while he remains popular among some in Jakarta, for some Muslims he is still a divisive figure and media reports said Pertamina’s unions had resisted his appointment.

Thohir defended the appointment and said: “Give us a chance to work and see the results.” (Reporting by Tabita Diela, Stanley Widianto and Wilda Asmarini; Editing by Ed Davies and Andrew Heavens)

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