Tight race: Jakarta's governor elections likely headed to second round
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Jakarta's Christian governor looked set for a tough run-off against a Muslim opponent in city elections seen as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia, after a tight first round Wednesday, February 15.
Analysts believe incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who is standing trial for blasphemy, is unlikely to win in a second round against ex-education minister Anies Baswedan, as Muslim voters swing behind Anies.
Ahok, once the odds-on favorite to win the gubernatorial election, held a narrow lead of about 43% to Baswedan's 39% in the first round, according to early vote tallies by private pollsters.
Anies exclaimed "Thanks be to God!" on learning of the tallies, adding: "At the end of the day, the people of Jakarta want change... this is not about the complexities of politics, it is about what matters in life."
But Ahok, who has won support with his determination to clean up Jakarta, signaled he was ready for a fight.
"This is not over yet," he told cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters in Jakarta. "Some pollsters said we were the candidates no one would vote for," he said, referring to himself and his running mate. "We ended up in the lead."
Third candidate Agus Yudhoyono, the son of a former president, was trailing far behind on about 17%, according to the pollsters. Official results will not be released for several weeks but the early tallies, known as "quick counts", are regarded as reliable.
Rappler has been following Kawal Pilkada's real count, which as of publication time had Ahok up 60.4%, to Anies' 28.2%, although only 8.48% of votes were in.
Local polls were taking place across Indonesia Wednesday but the race in the capital was the most hotly contested, with the top job in Jakarta seen as a stepping stone to victory in the 2019 presidential polls.
Run-off bad for Ahok
Despite his upbeat remarks, analysts warn Ahok is unlikely to win a second round against a candidate who has appealed to voters disillusioned by the governor's alleged blasphemy and controversially courted a hardline group that organized the protests against him.
“If you didn’t vote for Ahok in the first round and went with that emotional decision, that Ahok is a bad representative for a Muslim nation, then why would you vote for him in second round?,” Ross Tapsell, a lecturer in Asian Studies at the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University, told Rappler.
"At this stage, it will be a miracle if Ahok wins," said Tobias Basuki, a political analyst from Jakarta think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, adding it was unlikely the first round votes for Yudhoyono would go to Ahok.
Observers also warn that any run-off between Ahok and Anies could stoke religious tensions further after months of a dirty campaigning.
"The tense situation will continue until April – this kind of thing is dangerous," said Burhanuddin Muhtadi of pollster Indikator.
Run-off elections will be held in April.
The stakes in the vote have been raised by allegations that Ahok – the city's first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader – insulted the Koran.
The claims drew hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims onto the streets of Jakarta in major protests last year, and Ahok has been put on trial in a case criticised as unfair and politically motivated.
He was not barred from running but his popularity was dented for a period. The vote is now seen as a test of whether pluralism and a tolerant brand of Islam in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country are being eroded.
Any run-off between Ahok and Anies – who courted hardline group the Islamic Defenders Front, which organised the anti-Ahok protests – could stoke religious tensions further after months of dirty campaigning, analysts warn.
"The two represent the main political forces in Indonedia," said Burhanuddin Muhtadi of pollster Indikator, adding that Purnama was supported by progressive and liberal groups and his opponent by Islamists.
"The tense situation will continue until April – this kind of thing is dangerous."
In the unlikely event that Purnama wins and is convicted of blasphemy, which could see him sentenced to up to 5 years in prison, he would not automatically be barred from holding office and could avoid jail for a long time by filing successive appeals.
Authorities were taking no chances after the tense campaign, with thousands of police and troops deployed around the capital on election day.
Campaigning was marked by a flood of "fake news" which has mainly targeted Ahok, and included claims that a free vaccination programme he backed was a bid to make girls infertile and reduce the population.
Ahok's troubles began in September when he said in a speech that his rivals were tricking people into voting against him by using a Koranic verse, which some interpret as meaning Muslims should only choose Muslim leaders.
The controversy is a high-profile example of the religious intolerance that has become more common in Indonesia, 90% of whose 255 million inhabitants are Muslim. There has been a surge of attacks on minorities in recent years.
Purnama won popularity for trying to improve traffic-choked and chaotic Jakarta by cleaning up rivers and demolishing red-light districts, although his combative style and controversial slum clearances sparked some opposition. – Rappler.com