Wednesday, 26 April, 2017

Jakarta election: Ex-education minister takes lead over Ahok

A masked man holds an anti Ahok sign during a protest against Jakarta's Christian Governor Basuki A masked man holds an anti Ahok sign during a protest against Jakarta's Christian Governor Basuki"Ahok Tjahaja Purnama. AP
Christy Curtis | 20 April, 2017, 06:46

Recent opinion polls suggest the race is too close to call between incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, 50, known as Ahok, and 47-year-old former education minister Anies Baswedan.

The campaign has been one of the most bitterly fought elections the city has ever seen, and the election is being seen as a test for religious tolerance and pluralism in the majority Muslim nation.

Hundreds of thousands flocked to protests against Ahok in Jakarta that derided his Chinese heritage and called for him to be imprisoned or killed. Brokerage CIMB believes the passing of the election could see a return to normal for business, though markets, as measured by the Jakarta Composite Index (JCI) may remain cautious.

Ahok, who was Jakarta's first ethnic Chinese governor and first Christian in half a century, has been popular with middle-class Jakartans for his efforts to stamp out corruption in the city administration and make the overflowing polluted capital more livable. The new governor will serve a five-year term.

Indeed, Prabowo's Gerindra Party and the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) have emerged key winners in Anies' likely victory.

Early vote tallies from private pollsters due to be released in the afternoon should give an accurate indication of how the candidates have performed although official results will not be announced until early May.

Baswedan, a respected scholar who many viewed as moderate, drew widespread criticism during the campaign when he aggressively courted the conservative Islamic vote, appearing publicly with hardline Islamic leaders during anti-Purnama rallies.

An electoral worker shows off a ballot paper with images of candidates to witnesses while counting ballots during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

Muslims are demanding that Purnama be arrested.

Polls opened to a quiet start earlier in the day, but more voters started trickling to polling stations later in the morning and closer to lunchtime.

Anies and Sandiago have promised to end forced evictions of Jakarta's poor - an issue that has turned many former supporters of Ahok against him.

Gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan, center, his wife Fery Farhati Ganis, left, and daughter Mutiara show their ink-dipped fingers after giving their votes during the local election in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

His rival, 47-yeaer-old Baswedan, said as he voted in the south of the city that the election was "a celebration of democracy", which was being closely watched both at home and overseas and so it was important there should not be an atmosphere of tension.

Should Ahok be returned as Jakarta governor it will bode well for President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) should he run for re-election in 2019 (possibly with Ahok as running mate).

"Going forward, the politics of religion is going to be a potent force", said Keith Loveard, an analyst at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting and an author of books about Indonesian politics. Mr Anies is supported by retired general Prabowo Subianto, who lost to Mr Joko in 2014 and is expected to challenge him again. His trial will resume on Thursday, when prosecutors will submit their sentence request.

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