Unofficial tally points to second vote for Indonesia capital

Unofficial tally points to second vote for Indonesia capital

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Unofficial counts indicate the acrimonious election for the Indonesian capital’s governor will head to a second round in April with the incumbent, a minority Christian, failing to secure the 50 per cent needed for an outright win.

Most of the quick counts carried out by research companies show incumbent Gov. “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, whose campaign was hurt by blasphemy charges, winning 40-43 per cent of the vote. Anies Rasyid Baswedan, a former education minister who courted conservative and hard-line Muslims, trails by a couple of points.

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the photogenic son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was in a distant third place that eliminates him from the contest.

Religion and Ahok’s Chinese ethnicity, rather than the slew of problems that face a car-clogged and sinking Jakarta, dominated the campaign and transformed the election into a high-stakes tussle between conservatives, who want Islam to be ascendant in politics and society, and moderates.

Ahok’s chances appeared dashed after accusations he blasphemed the Qur’an led to criminal charges and trial but he rebounded in opinion polls following a series of televised debates. If convicted of blasphemy, he faces up to five years in prison.

“We know that you all wanted to see us win in one round, but we should be grateful for the outcome of this struggle,” he told supporters. “When many considered that nobody wants to vote for me, it turns out we are most preferred.”

The blasphemy trial and the ease with which hard-liners attracted several hundred thousand to protest against Ahok in Jakarta in November and December have undermined Indonesia’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam and shaken the centrist government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Calls for Ahok to be killed and anti-Chinese sentiment were disturbing elements of the protests, one of which turned violent, with dozens injured and one person dying from the effects of tear gas.

Some analysts say it will be difficult for him to win the second vote if the Anti-Ahok camp unites behind the remaining Muslim candidate and expect religious and racial divisions to be heightened ahead of the April election.

“It’s going to be very hard. The second round is going to be very ugly. The first round issues of religion and ethnicity were ugly enough,” said Tobias Basuki, a political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

Defeat for Ahok would also be a defeat for Indonesia’s moderate political and religious leaders and further embolden hard-liners, who say a non-Muslim should not lead Muslims. The governorship is also seen as a launching pad into national politics and possibly the presidency.

Baswedan said he was open to an arrangement with Yudhoyono to secure his votes for the second round.

“The mandate given through the ballot this morning is a huge mandate. For us, this percentage is not just votes, it is trust,” he said.

Prasetio Edi Marsudi, who heads Ahok’s campaign team, told a crowd of supporters that Wednesday’s vote was mismanaged at some of the 13,000 polling places including lack of ballot papers that meant some people couldn’t vote.

“We are still waiting reports from our team over possible irregularities in some places and we will follow it up with the authorities for further action,” Marsudi said.

Official results of the election are due in late February.

Ahok had been popular because of his drive to eliminate corruption from the Jakarta administration and his efforts to make the city more livable. But brutal demolitions of some of the slum neighbourhoods that are home to millions and ill-considered outspokenness proved to be his Achilles’ heel.

Opponents seized their moment last year when a video surfaced of Ahok telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Qur’an prohibited Muslims from electing a non-Muslim as leader.

Stephen Wright And Niniek Karmini, The Associated Press

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