World

Jakarta election: Ex-education minister takes lead over Ahok

JAKARTA GOVERNOR RACE: Former education minister Anies wins by big margin

JAKARTA: A former Indonesian education minister won the race for Jakarta governor yesterday 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 incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Chinese nickname as 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 in early May.

The turbulent campaign featured rallies led by a hardline Islamist movement, which has strengthened in recent years.

"Going forward, the politics of religion is going to be a potent force," said Mr Keith Loveard, an analyst at Concord Consulting and an author of books on Indonesian politics.

Mr Anies' huge margin of victory was surprising since opinion polls in the run-up to the election had pointed to a dead heat. Basuki, a Christian, won the first round of voting in February in a three-way race.

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

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

Basuki is backed by President Joko Widodo's ruling party. Mr Anies is supported by retired general Prabowo Subianto, who lost to Mr Joko in 2014 and is expected to challenge him again.

'DIRTIEST'

Police said 15 people were detained following disturbances at polling stations in the city of 10 million people, after what the Jakarta Post dubbed "the dirtiest, most polarising and most divisive" election campaign the nation had ever seen.

Security appeared light at several polling stations, though police said 66,000 personnel were deployed across the city.

Religious tensions have been an undercurrent in the campaign, with Basukion trial for blasphemy over comments he made last year that many took to be insulting to Islam.

Indonesians at a polling station under a bridge in Jakarta yesterday to vote for either Basuki (left) or Mr Anies (right). PHOTOS: EPA

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims took to the streets late last year to call for his sacking and to urge voters not to elect a non-Muslim leader.

Some voters may have been reluctant to vote for Basukibecause of worries of "five more years of protests on the streets by Muslim hardliners", said Mr Loveard.

Mr Anies, a scholar who many viewed as moderate, drew criticism during the campaign when he aggressively courted the conservative Islamic vote. He struck a reconciliatory tone at a news conference after unofficial results came in, pledging to "safeguard diversity and unity".

His platform has focused on improving public education, providing no-deposit home loans for low income groups and opposing a giant seawall in Jakarta Bay.

Mr Anies will officially take over as governor in October.

Basuki congratulated his rival in a news conference. His trial will resume today and he faces up to five years in jail if convicted of blasphemy. - REUTERS

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