Jakarta’s Christian governor on Wednesday lost heavily to a Muslim former government minister in an election run-off, private polls indicated, after a divisive battle that has damaged Indonesia’s reputation as a bastion of tolerant Islam.
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.
Prosecutors in Indonesia are calling for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, to be jailed for one year over allegations that he committed blasphemy.
The Jakarta election is being viewed as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim majority Indonesia.
Ahok was facing a maximum jail term of five years for violating Article 156 of the penal code, which covers hostility and contempt against religion.
It comes a day after the incumbent governor was heading for defeat in the gubernatorial elections against a Muslim opponent.
The official results are expected to be released in May.
Indonesian social media users likened the election outcome to the shock results of the United States presidential vote and the Brexit vote of a year ago.
The incumbent governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as “Ahok”), a Protestant, angered some Muslims when, in a campaign appearance, he argued that Muslims should not follow a passage of the Qu’ran enjoining them to reject the leadership of non-Muslims.
Recent polls have Ahok and Mr Baswedan neck and neck. The president has called for calm, saying it “shouldn’t break our unity”. “We are all brothers and sisters”.
Buni Yani is a former private university lecturer who uploaded the video which showed Basuki allegedly making comments that were deemed insulting to Islam a year ago.
Indonesians queue up give their votes at a makeshift polling station under a bridge during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
Citigroup said in an investor note that, despite the potential for renewed protests if Purnama won, it was maintaining a Jakarta stock index target of 6,150 by the end of 2017, up from around 5,600 now.
“If Ahok had won by a large margin, there wouldn’t be much danger if [it] charged him with a low sentence, but the election alone will [add] pressure to charge him on a higher count”, he said.
Ahok vowed at a press conference to use his remaining time in office to continue ambitious infrastructure and development projects that have improved Jakarta.
He suggested that his opponents had employed a verse from the Islamic holy text to wrongly convince people against voting for him – a non-Muslim.
Three candidates stood for the role of governor: Ahok, Baswaden, and Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was defeated in the first round of the vote.
Analyst Charlotte Setijadi from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Sydney said the most successful and unsafe aspect of the anti-Ahok campaign had been the “reductionist and divisive rhetoric – that a vote for Ahok was a vote against Islam”.