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Jakarta’s Christian Governor Set for Defeat in Tense Election, Polls Show

DW Editors Wednesday, April 19, 2017

(DW) — A Muslim ex-education minister has taken the lead against Jakarta's Christian governor in a vote that raised concerns of sectarian violence. The president has called for calm, saying it "shouldn't break our unity."

Former Education Minister Anies Baswedan garnered a considerable lead on Wednesday in a run-off gubernatorial election in Jakarta. Early results released by an unofficial private pollster on Wednesday showed the Muslim politician received 58 percent of the vote.

The run-off placed Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and ethnic-Chinese leader nicknamed "Ahok," against Baswedan, a Muslim politician with a background in academia, in an electoral process which has stoked religious tensions in the nation's capital.

"Our focus is social justice, ending inequality and our commitment is to safeguard diversity and unity," Baswedan said at a news conference after vote counting began.

Official results are expected to be announced in early May.

Blasphemy Case

Despite the role of moderate Islam in the world's most populous Muslim country, the election raised tensions between Muslim and Christian communities in the capital, in part due to Purnama's blasphemy trial.

Hardliners accused Jakarta's governor of insulting the Quran after he lightheartedly said his rivals were tricking people into voting against him by using a verse from Islam's holiest text.

Some hard-line groups, including Salafists, interpreted the verse in question to mean that Muslims should only choose leaders from their religious community.

Purnama's remarks prompted mass protests led by an Islamist group in Jakarta, which left at least one person dead and more than 100 injured. The governor was consequently placed on trial for blasphemy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

'Not Break Our Unity'

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose party backed Purnama, called for unity in the capital of the world's third-largest democracy in a bid to stem an outbreak of violence.

"Political differences should not break our unity," said Widodo after casting his vote at a central polling station. "We are all brothers and sisters. Whoever is elected, we must accept."

Police deployed more than 60,000 law enforcement agents for the vote to prevent any escalation of violence.

Authorities established checkpoints in neighboring provinces to ensure there was "no movement of masses toward the capital," said Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

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