Asia

Supporters of SBY’s son hold key in Jakarta election run-off

Published: 4:00 AM, February 17, 2017

JAKARTA — Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the photogenic son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was a distant third in the first round of Wednesday’s Jakarta Governor election and eliminated from the contest, but how his supporters vote in the run-off will decide the result.

With Mr Yudhoyono defeated, Mr Anies Baswedan may soak up all anti-Christian and anti-Chinese votes, which could put him over 50 per cent in April. However, the tenacity of Incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who bounced back from the apparent political death sentence of blasphemy charges and a trial, means he could still eke out a victory.

Opponents seized their moment last year when a video surfaced of Mr Purnama — also known as “Ahok” — telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from electing a non-Muslim as leader.

“It’s hard to see Mr Purnama winning a second round,” said Ms Charlotte Setijadi, an Indonesia-focused research fellow at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute told the Financial Times. “With only two candidates, we can expect the racial and religious mud-slinging will get even worse and Mr Yudhoyono’s voters are likely to go to Mr Baswedan.”

The incumbent Governor said on Wednesday that “the fight is not over”.

“The support for Ahok and (running mate) Djarot (Saiful Hidayat) has not waned,” Mr Purnama said. “Today, we saw that the majority of Jakarta’s residents believe that Ahok-Djarot can provide social justice to all. We wanted to secure one round victory. But still, we should thank God for this result.”

The blasphemy trial and the ease with which hard-liners attracted several hundred thousand to protest against Mr Purnama in Jakarta in November and December last year have undermined Indonesia’s reputation for practising a moderate form of Islam and shaken the centrist government of President Joko Widodo (also known as “Jokowi”).

Calls for the incumbent governor to be killed and anti-Chinese sentiment were disturbing elements of the protests, one of which turned violent, with dozens injured and one person dead from the effects of tear gas. If convicted of blasphemy, he faces up to five years in prison.

Analysts attribute Mr Baswedan’s popularity partly to strong performances in televised debates, as well as efforts to appeal to more conservative Muslims.

Commenting on his first-round performance, Ms Shinta Eka Puspasari, an analyst at Concord Consulting in Jakarta, noted that “Anies emerged as a strong candidate in the three official debates. While he and (Sandiaga) Uno were criticised for attacking their opponents, the pair was still able to deliver their visions clearly, compared to Yudhoyono-(Sylviana) Murni”.

“He also succeeded in playing the religious card, presenting good Islamic credentials and may continue sharpening this image ahead of the run-off,” she added.

But while Mr Baswedan appears better positioned at this point, it was too early to rule out Mr Purnama, given his strong finish in the first round after having been severely weakened, said Mr Greg Barton, a professor of global politics and Indonesia specialist at Deakin University in Australia.

“You can’t take anything for granted, having seen how the last two months have gone,” he said. AGENCIES