Domingo, 21 Abril, 2019

Ahok faces Baswedan in Jakarta runoff election

Jakarta's controversial Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Source Internet Jakarta's controversial Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Source Internet
Eleena Tovar | 20 Abril, 2017, 13:28

Surveys have shown the race tightening to a statistical dead heat, with incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, closing in on rival Anies Baswedan, a former education minister. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Chinese nickname as "Ahok", is the incumbent governor who favours a democratic and pluralistic Indonesia.

A sample count extracted from the almost six million ballots cast showed Baswedan secured 58 per cent of the vote, against 42 per cent for the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Associate Professor at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Dr Marcus Mietzner said the politicisation of religion had been facilitated by the "Islamists" increasing organisational capacity, enhanced alliance-building with mainstream politicians, better access to funds, and effective social media campaigning'. Subsequently, the influence of hardline Muslims is expected to be bigger in that election as these groups disapprove of Ahok-ally Widodo.

Baswedan, who is supported by the opposition Gerindra Party and Prosperous Justice Party, called on voters to forget the differences of the campaign, which has seen Purnama put on trial over blasphemy allegations. Baswedan is supported by a retired general, Prabowo Subianto, who narrowly lost to Widodo in a 2014 presidential vote and is expected to challenge him again.

On Thursday, prosecutors will make their sentencing demand in Ahok's trial.

It's bad news for religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Before the blasphemy controversy erupted, Purnama enjoyed a large opinion poll lead due to his determination to clean up traffic-clogged, polluted Jakarta.

The election will be seen as a barometer for the 2019 presidential election, given Jakarta's outsized importance as both the nation's capital and commercial centre.

The election campaign exposed the capital city's deep religious divisions, highlighted by mass protests against Ahok, who stepped into the position vacated by Joko Widodo when he became president.

Indonesia's secular status has since survived many tests, including a series of armed rebellions and terrorist attacks in the name of Islam. In February, he finished first in a field of three candidates with 43 percent of the vote.

Nearly 60 per cent of Jakarta voters gave their votes to other pairs of candidates both during the first round in February as well as in yesterday's run-off, although various surveys prior to the election show that 70 per cent of Jakarta residents are satisfied with the way Ahok has managed the city. "We are all brothers and sisters".

The result is also seen as a major blow to Widodo, who had backed Purnama's candidacy. Whoever is elected, we must accept. Hardline Islamic cleric Habib Rizieq, who helped organize the anti-Purnama demonstrations during the campaign, last week urged Muslims to travel to Jakarta and be ready to "finish" their opponents. One person died and more than 100 were injured after one protest turned violent.

However, Muslim hardliners, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), began to campaign against him, telling voters it is unlawful to vote for an "infidel" or a non-Muslim. The first, which carried a maximum penalty of five years, was in relation to deliberate blasphemy, while the second was blasphemy or hate speech without intent.

The loser can contest the results in the Constitutional Court, which could prolong political uncertainty for weeks. Time will tell. And somehow, the Jakarta election, whichever way it goes, would also be a telling factor about which direction Indonesia is heading.

Yesterday's election was held amid heightened security.