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Indonesia: Polls Tight as Jakarta Governor’s Race Nears Run-Off

Rina Chadijah
Jakarta
2017-04-14
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Running mates (from left) Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and Djarot Saiful Hidayat square off with challengers Anies Rasyid Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno during the final Jakarta gubernatorial election debate, April 12, 2017.
Running mates (from left) Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and Djarot Saiful Hidayat square off with challengers Anies Rasyid Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno during the final Jakarta gubernatorial election debate, April 12, 2017.
Rina Chadijah/BenarNews

Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is facing a stiff challenge from opponent Anies Rasyid Baswedan, with polls showing them running neck-and-neck before next week’s run-off vote in the local governor’s race.

More than 7 million people are expected to turn out for Wednesday’s vote that will decide who will lead Indonesia’s sprawling, diverse and cosmopolitan capital for the next five years.

Ahok, a member of Indonesia’s small ethnic Chinese and Christian community who has served as governor since 2014, is trailing narrowly behind Anies, a former education minister in the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, according to the latest polls.

According to numbers released this week by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC), Ahok and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat were gaining ground on Anies and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, and were trailing them by 1 percentage point. The incumbents gained 3.1 percent while the challengers saw their numbers slip by 2.8 percent, according to the poll conducted between March 31 and April 5.

A different poll, conducted from March 7 to April by Lingkaran Survei Indonesia (LSI) Denny JA research center, found that 54.1 percent want a new governor to lead Indonesia’s capital city, while only 33.7 percent want the incumbent to stay.

As they did in the previous round of the election, religious tensions have underscored the second and final round. Muslim groups have urged residents of the capital to elect a non-Muslim for governor and have demanded that Ahok be removed from office because of blasphemy charges leveled against him, for which he is now standing trial.

J. Kristiadi, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said it is difficult to predict who will win on April 19 because such tensions have marred the run-up to the vote. Still, he is confident voters can make the right decision about who will lead Jakarta for the next five years.

“The most important thing is the process of democracy runs well. Religious and racial issues should never damage the democracy in the nation,” Kristiadi told BenarNews.

13,034 polling stations

Ahok and Anies, who finished first and second in a three-way election on Feb. 15, must face off again on Wednesday because neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.

Jakarta Election Commission officials expect 7.2 million people to cast ballots, an increase of nearly 110,000 from the February vote. The Commission has 13,034 polling stations in six districts across the province.

Jakarta Metro Police Chief M. Iriawan said more than half the force would be deployed during the day to maintain peace and order.

“A polling station will be guarded by one police, one armed forces member and a number of civil police personnel. There are around 15,000 armed forces personnel and 34,627 police personnel. We will be helped by civil police personnel as well,” Iriawan told reporters on Thursday.

Blasphemy controversy

Ahok has kept campaigning for the post he was appointed to in 2014, when then-Gov. Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected president, even as he stands trial on blasphemy charges.

Those charges stem from an online video where he cited a verse from the Quran that hardliners claim insulted Islam. During a visit to Thousand Islands regency last year, Ahok, an ethnic Chinese Christian, told residents not to be deceived by people using the verse Al Maidah 51 to deter them from choosing a non-Muslim leader.

Prosecutors decided to postpone the reading of the sentence demand against Ahok until April 20, the day after the run-off election. In February, Minister of Home Affairs Tjahjo Kumolo said Ahok could be removed temporarily from his position as governor if he faced a sentence of five years in prison.

Since the video became public, the hard-line Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) and other groups held rallies attended by thousands of Muslims to demand his arrest. One rally in November started out peacefully, but turned violent at the end of the day.

More recently, the Electoral Supervisory Board reported that 630 banners with provocative anti-Ahok messages were found in mosques and on Jakarta streets urging Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim leader “who insulted Islam.”

Some hardline groups have threatened to not perform funeral rites for Muslims who support Ahok. In early March, residents refused to perform such rites for a 78-year-old woman because she had voted for Ahok-Djarot in the first round of the election.

Anies courts Muslim votes

Anies, who was removed by Jokowi from his role as minister of education, had been recognized as a moderate Muslim, but has been working with hardline groups as the election nears.  He was seen sitting next to FPI leader Rizieq Shihab during a recent meeting.

“Jakarta for all, and every Jakarta resident has the right to discuss with the candidates Anies and Sandi,” Anies told DetikNews when asked about the meeting.

But on Wednesday when he squared off against Ahok in the final nationally televised debate, Anies separated himself from hardline Muslims, declaring he would not bring Sharia law to Jakarta.

Voter Syahrul Idri, 52, said he would stick with the Ahok-Djarot ticket. The Duren Sawit, East Jakarta, resident  said the candidates were proven leaders who would make Jakarta a better city.

“Too many thugs in the city. We need a tough leader like Ahok. He has proved through his works and he is not involved in any corruption cases. I don’t care about his religion or race,” Syahrul told BenarNews.

Merchant Mahdi, 47, said Jakarta needs a leader who will not be divisive. The Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, resident hopes tensions related to the elections will disappear.

“Whoever the governor will be, we hope there will not be a clash. Peace is all we need,” he said.

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