Ahok’s sound defeat in Jakarta Governor race a blow to Widodo

Ahok’s sound defeat in Jakarta Governor race a blow to Widodo
Gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan, center right, hugs his running mate Sandiaga Uno during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Photo: AP
Baswedan wins 58% of votes which does not bode well for President ahead of 2019 polls
Published: 8:22 AM, April 20, 2017

JAKARTA — A former education minister won the race for Jakarta Governor yesterday, soundly defeating the incumbent — who was backed by President Joko Widodo — as the ruling party was dealt a severe blow. 

After a polarising campaign that cast a shadow over Indonesia’s reputation for practising a tolerant form of Islam, Mr Anies Baswedan won with 58 per cent of the votes versus 42 per cent for Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — known by his Chinese nickname of “Ahok” — based on 100 per cent of the votes in an unofficial “quick count” by Indikator Politik. Other pollsters showed similar results with 99 per cent counted. 

The national elections commission will announce the official results early next month.

The Jakarta election has been seen as a barometer for the 2019 presidential election, given the city’s outsized importance as both the nation’s capital and commercial centre.

Purnama is backed by Mr Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Mr Baswedan is supported by a retired general, Mr Prabowo Subianto, who narrowly lost to Mr Widodo in a 2014 presidential vote and is expected to challenge him again.

The turbulent campaign featured mass rallies led by a hardline Islamist movement, which has strengthened in recent years in a country long dominated by a moderate form of Islam. More than 80 per cent of Indonesia’s population are Muslims.

“Going forward, the politics of religion is going to be a potent force,” said Mr Keith Loveard, an analyst at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting and an author of books about Indonesian politics.

Mr Baswedan’s huge margin of victory was surprising since opinion polls in the run-up to the election had pointed to a dead-heat. Purnama won the first round of voting for Governor in February in a three-way race.

Indonesian social media users likened the election outcome to the shock results of the US presidential vote and the Brexit vote of last year. 

One Twitter user, @fuadhn, said Indonesians “can feel what US and British citizens feel now. Welcome populism ...”

Police said 15 people were detained following reports of disturbances at several polling stations in the city of 10 million people as 66,000 security personnel were deployed across the capital.

Religious tensions have been an undercurrent in the campaign, with Purnama on trial for blasphemy over comments he made last year that many said were insulting to Islam.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims took to the streets late last year to call for him to be sacked and to urge voters not to elect a non-Muslim leader. One person died and more than 100 were injured after one protest turned violent.

Some voters may have been reluctant to vote for Purnama because of worries about five more years of protests on the streets by Muslim hardliners, Mr Loveard said in a telephone interview.

Mr Baswedan, a respected scholar whom 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.

Surrounded by his political patrons, including Mr Prabowo, he struck a reconciliatory tone at a news conference after unofficial results came in, pledging to “safeguard diversity and unity”.

On his part, Purnama congratulated Mr Baswedan and urged Indonesians to forget the acrimony of the campaign. 

Today, prosecutors are scheduled to make their sentencing demand in the blasphemy trial. Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Indonesia and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Ms Baswedan’s platform has focused on improving public education, providing no-deposit home loans for low-income groups and opposing a giant seawall in Jakarta Bay that Purnama has advocated. The former minister has denied he plans to implement Syariah law in Jakarta if elected. 

He will officially take over as Governor in October. AGENCIES