World

Jakarta cops thwart hardliners' plan to guard poll stations

JAKARTA: Indonesian police yesterday blocked plans by hardline Islamist groups to guard polling booths during tomorrow's vote for Jakarta governor, citing the potential for clashes in an election that has stoked religious tensions.

A coalition of hardline Islamic groups said late last week it would deploy at least 100 monitors at each polling station in the Indonesian capital city of 10 million people.

"Any mobilisation of masses that is aimed at physical or psychological intimidation, especially at polling stations, is prohibited," the city police said in a joint statement with the elections commission.

Around 66,000 police and military personnel will be deployed on voting day, police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said.

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"We are increasing our presence at polling stations as well, so please trust that the state apparatus will remain neutral and safeguard the election," he added.

Surveys have shown the race tightening to a statistical dead heat, with incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian, closing in on rival Anies Baswedan, a former education minister.

Jakarta has towering influence on national politics as both the capital and financial centre, contributing nearly 15 per cent of Indonesia's gross domestic product.

The greater Jakarta population of around 25 million people makes it one of the world's biggest mega-cities.

Mr Purnama is standing trial on blasphemy charges stemming from the divisive campaign that also featured mass rallies led by Islamist hardliners and alleged plots to overthrow President Joko Widodo.

Mr Purnama faces up to four years in prison and possible disqualification if he does win the election.

Prosecutors are expected to recommend a sentence at a hearing the day after the election.

A verdict is due next month.- REUTERS

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