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Blasphemy case casts shadow over Ahok’s chances

JAKARTA — The people of Jakarta go to the polls on Wednesday (Feb 15) to decide who their next Governor will be and the electoral battle is likely to be closely fought, said experts interviewed by TODAY.

Blasphemy case casts shadow over Ahok’s chances

Supporters cheering as Jakarta's governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama makes his way on stage during his final campaign rally in Jakarta on Feb 11, 2017. Photo: AFP

JAKARTA — The people of Jakarta go to the polls on Wednesday (Feb 15) to decide who their next Governor will be and the electoral battle is likely to be closely fought, said experts interviewed by TODAY.

While incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is leading in most recent polls, analysts caution that he is unlikely to garner enough votes to exceed the 50 per cent threshold needed to win the election outright.

One key reason for this is Mr Purnama’s ongoing trial for blasphemy would cost him a significant number of Muslim voters.

“Many Muslims see his comments on a Quranic verse as entirely inappropriate and many are not prepared to forgive him despite his repeated apologies,” said Mr Keith Loveard, a senior analyst with Concord Consulting, who is based in Jakarta.

Indonesia expert Charlotte Setijadi said that the blasphemy allegation has been used “very effectively by those who oppose Ahok (and the political coalition behind him) as a tool to polarise the argument and dissuade Muslim voters from voting for him”.

“This has been very harmful for his campaign and chances of winning,” added the visiting research fellow at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Mr Purnama, 50, a Christian of Chinese descent in the predominantly-Muslim Indonesia, provoked anger among some Muslims — who make up about 85 per cent of Jakarta’s population — after a video clip of him talking to constituents in September last year was posted online.

In the video, he allegedly told them not to be misled by his opponents who cited a verse in the Quran to urge Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim.

The election will also be contested by two other candidates: Mr Agus Yudhoyono and Mr Anies Baswedan.

Mr Yudhoyono, 38, is the oldest son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who retired from the military to run for Governor, while
Mr Baswedan, 47, was the former education minister in President Joko Widodo’s government.

Even if the blasphemy case does not sway them, many ordinary Muslims will vote for Mr Purnama’s two rivals “just because they are Muslim, not because they dislike Ahok over his alleged insult of Islam”, Jakarta resident Shinta Eka Puspasari told TODAY.

While Mr Purnama may be leading his two rivals in polls, experts cautioned that one should not read too much into them and that the electoral contest is still open-ended.

“These polls do fluctuate quite frequently throughout the campaign period, and all three teams have emerged as top contenders one way or another depending on the poll, as well as the timing of the polls,” explained Mr Jonathan Chen, an associate research fellow with the Indonesia Programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Some seven million people in the Indonesian capital are eligible to vote for their new Governor and quick count results are expected this evening. Full official results will be declared on Feb 27.

If none of the candidates garner over 50 per cent of votes required for an outright win, that would lead to a run-off contest at a later date between the top two polling candidates.

One likely scenario is that Mr Purnama proceeds to the run-off, but is defeated by voters uniting behind the remaining Muslim candidate, added analysts.

“Ahok’s chance of winning the (run-off) election is even lower because it is likely that Muslim voters who had voted for whoever comes third would then back Ahok’s opponent in the second round, making it even harder for Ahok to achieve the majority to win,” Dr Setijadi noted. WITH AGENCIES

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