Jakarta on Alert as Voters Head to Polls to Choose Next Governor

Reuters/BeawihartaAn aerial view shows members of hardline Muslim groups attending a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2016.

Rating agency Fitch said on Thursday tensions witnessed during the Jakarta governor poll could resurface in the run-up to Indonesia's next presidential election in 2019 and potentially affect support for the government's policy agenda negatively.

Purnama was Jakarta's first Christian governor in half a century and the first ethnically Chinese governor.

A man casts his ballot during the local election in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

On Wednesday night, after it had become clear that he had lost a bitterly contested gubernatorial race against Muslim candidate Anies Baswedan, Ahok delivered a concession address telling people to "forget all the things that happened during the campaign", according to the New York Times.

Mr Anies, who was Indonesia's culture and education minister until he was dropped by President Joko Widodo in July past year, welcomed the meetings with the outgoing team. The defeat is also a blow for President Joko Widodo, whose party had backed Purnama.

"We are all brothers and sisters". The elections commission is expected to announce official results by the first week of May.

Ahok was facing a maximum jail term of five years for violating Article 156 of the penal code, which covers hostility and contempt against religion. "Whoever is elected, we must accept", he told reporters after voting.

The blasphemy allegations and Purnama's subsequent poll loss have sparked fears that pluralistic traditions in the world's most populous Muslim country are under threat from the influence of hardliners, who pushed for the governor's prosecution.

Baswedan, highly educated and with a moderate Muslim background, capitalized on the backlash against Ahok by courting the support of conservative clerics and figures on the radical fringe who opposed electing a non-Muslim.

Police said 15 people were detained following disturbances at polling stations in the city of 10 million people, after what the Jakarta Post dubbed "the dirtiest, most polarising and most divisive" election campaign the nation had ever seen.

Purnama's critics assert that the Qur'an forbids Muslims to align themselves with Christians or Jews, basing their argument on a verse (Qur'an 5:51) that reads in part, "O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies".

However there was no sign of unrest and police said the election had run smoothly.

Since then, Ahok had promoted himself as an anti-corruption, straight-talking politician who was bent on cleaning up Jakarta's streets, and building infrastructure. Many Muslim groups, especially hardline Islamists, took offence to the comments and called for Mr Purnama to be sacked and jailed.

Indonesian social media users likened the election outcome to the shock results of the United States presidential vote and the Brexit vote of past year.

  • Salvatore Jensen