The governor’s loss was the most prominent sign yet of Indonesia’s tilt toward political Islam. A moderate, secular democracy with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia in many ways provides a counterweight to the sectarian clashes and autocratic rule that have plagued Muslim countries in the Middle East, some 5,000 miles away.
But in recent years, the radical Muslims who have been trying to turn Indonesia into a strict Islamic state have gradually gained influence, accruing an array of significant victories.
As the Jakarta election was underway, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling that was less noticed but could have a broader effect. The court struck down a law allowing the government to annul discriminatory local laws, such as religious-based laws regulating morality or women’s behavior.
Local laws are where the Islamists have made the biggest gains. Since 1998, with the introduction of democracy and the decentralization of power to the local authorities, more than 440 local ordinances have been adopted imposing elements of Islamic law, or Shariah, like requiring women to wear head scarves or restricting alcohol sales, according to Michael Buehler, a senior lecturer at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in his book “The Politics of Shari’a Law.”
“Religion has become politicized in local elections, and we saw that emerge in a big way in the election for governor in Jakarta,” said Melissa Crouch, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who researches Asian legal systems. “Democracy gives a…