Jakarta hopes for end to religious rift after gubernatorial polls

Data from sample polling stations suggests the race will enter round two, between incumbent governor of Indonesia's capital Basuki Purnama and Anies Baswedan. Purnama was charged with blasphemy months before the elections.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Governor Purnama's campaign rebounded in the polls even after his campaign was hit by blasphemy charges. Quick counts are expected after polling ends based on a sample of voting booths across Jakarta. Official results are expected after two weeks.

A quick post-election count at sample polling stations in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta suggests the gubernatorial race will enter a run-off or round two between incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and former education minister Anies Baswedan.

Purnama had secured 43.08 percent of the votes, just ahead of Baswedan on 40.14 percent, based on a quick sample count of about 95 percent of the vote by private polling firm SMRC. The other candidate, Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was in third place with 16.78 percent. Other pollsters showed similar results.

The election has largely been overshadowed by increasing religious rifts in the Muslim-majority country. 

The office of governor can be a springboard to the presidency and weeks of campaigning have been overshadowed by mudslinging, political intrigue and rising religious hardline sentiment as Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, faces charges of insulting the Quran. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population but is officially secular and home to minority Christian and Hindu communities, as well as hundreds of ethnic groups.

The case has brought Muslims onto the streets, urging voters to shun a non-Muslim as a leader. Purnama denies the charge and his support has rebounded to lead many opinion polls, which analysts attribute to his record of improving the bureaucracy and easing congestion and flooding.

Voters were hopeful the results would unify the country, however, analysts disagree. Some say divisions could linger and even deepen as the vote, which is also being widely seen as a proxy battle for the next presidential election, in 2019, appeared to be heading for a second round, according to unofficial sample vote counts. 

Purnama is backed by President Joko Widodo's ruling party.  Baswedan is backed by Prabowo Subianto, a retired general who is promising a comeback to the national stage after losing to Widodo in the 2014 presidential election.

"There would be tension that will be stored until 2019, because of course, all this is not really against Purnama, it's against Widodo. Prabowo is coming in now," said Wimar Witoelar, a Jakarta-based political analyst.

Police in the Indonesian capital clashed with hardline protesters refusing to disperse after a massive demonstration to demand the arrest of the city's minority-Christian governor for alleged blasphemy. November 4, 2016. (AP)

"Some of my Muslim friends do believe he blasphemed and won't vote for a non-Muslim, the case has created differences among us," said Deny S Pamudji, 57, an ethnic Chinese voter, who spoke outside a polling station just before Purnama cast his ballot.

"I do hope that there will be no more related political and religious tensions after this election," said Hanida Syafriani, a resident of East Jakarta who was supporting the Christian, ethnic Chinese incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Getting the vote out

Many of the 7.1 million residents eligible to vote posted photos on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, displaying ink-stained fingers to show they had cast ballots.

Indra Pramono, 40, a Jakarta resident who was backing Baswedan, hoped the election could be wrapped up in one round.

"Ahok did good actually, but I'm voting for someone with the same faith as me. That's the main reason."

Peaceful polls

Voting in the capital, alongside scores of other regional polls in the world's third-largest democracy, were peaceful and mostly running without hitches, police said.

Police deployed 75,000 personnel across Indonesia with 16,000 in Jakarta, concerned that hardline Muslim groups may again take to the streets to oppose Purnama. Protests led by these parties rocked Jakarta before and during the campaign, attracting hundreds of thousands.

The competition has been particularly bitter between Purnama's camp and that of Yudhoyono. Former president Yudhoyono said on Twitter on Tuesday that various figures were trying to sabotage his son's chances.

The General Elections Commission is expected to announce official results after about two weeks.

If no candidate achieves a majority in the first round in any provincial vote, including Jakarta, a runoff is expected between the two candidates securing the most votes. A candidate needs to get more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round to win outright. 

TRTWorld and agencies