'Dirty' Jakarta election looms as religious politics resurfaces

A dark horse was his rival Anies Baswedan, who emerged from significantly trailing his rivals, to attract only 3 percent less votes than Ahok.

The verse had been used by his opponents in the world's most-populous Muslim country to argue that Muslims should not vote for a non-Muslim leader.

Purnama's supporters say prosecutors filed the charges under pressure from Islamist groups that do not want to see a non-Muslim hold a key political position.

Incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, his wife Veronica and son Nicholas show their ballot papers at a polling station.

The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam and religious freedom and diversity is enshrined in the state ideology.

Purnama won a three-way first-round vote on February 15, securing 43 percent of the votes.

About 7 million people are eligible to vote until 1 p.m. (0600 GMT), when polling stations close.

Security is tight in the Indonesian capital amid heightened racial and religious tensions. "We are all brothers and sisters".

Ahok is an ally of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi - in fact, he was his running mate during Widodo's own successful run for the governorship in 2012.

Kartika Wirjoatmodjo, chief executive officer of the country's largest state bank, Bank Mandiri, said in an interview that whoever won "we (should) make sure it doesn't affect any of the long-term policies, especially on the openness and. ease of doing business and attracting investment".

The hardline Islamists behind the rallies - led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a group known for attacks on religious minorities and extorting money from nightclubs - were cultivated by Purnama's rivals.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said police had stopped and searched vehicle heading for Jakarta on Tuesday to ensure "no movement of masses toward the capital".

Tensions began to build in November 2016 after Ahok made comments during a campaign speech, which were interpreted by some as an insult to the Quran and Islam.

It brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets in several mass demonstrations before Purnama was put on trial for blasphemy.

After an anti-Purnama protest previous year turned violent, authorities are taking no chances and over 60,000 security forces had been deployed.

Purnama faces up to five years in jail if convicted of blasphemy.

According to The Jakarta Post, analysts are expecting a record 80 per cent voter turn-out, or just a tad higher than the 77 per cent recorded the Jakarta General Elections Commission in the first round of the election in February.

Asked by the BBC if his group was damaging Indonesia's pluralist democracy, he said: "Democracy doesn't stop someone from voting for a person from the same religion as you".

The loser can contest the results in the Constitutional Court, which could prolong political uncertainty for weeks.

  • Leroy Wright