JAKARTA (AFP) – Jakarta’s Christian governor yesterday 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.
Anies Baswedan, who was accused of pandering to hardliners to win votes, and his supporters cheered as news came through that surveys showed him winning by over 10 percentage points against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was fighting for his job while standing trial for blasphemy.
Official results are not expected until early May but the private pollsters, who count a sample of votes, are usually accurate.
Baswedan, a former education minister, thanked Jakarta’s voters for supporting him and hinted that he would move to heal the divisions in the capital after the bitter poll, if his victory was confirmed.
“We celebrate diversity… We are all ready to work together again,” the 47-year-old said.
Purnama, the city’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, congratulated Baswedan and his running mate, adding: “We are all the same, we want a good Jakarta, because it is our home.”
The defeat is also a blow for President Joko Widodo, whose party had backed Purnama.
The incumbent had long been a shoo-in to win re-election after gaining popularity due to his determined efforts to clean up Jakarta.
Purnama won in the election’s first round in February but Baswedan was seen as the favourite in the run-off because the votes from a third, Muslim, candidate who was knocked out were expected to go to him.
Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote indicated that the race was neck and neck but in the event Baswedan strongly defeated Purnama, the pollsters indicated. They showed him with about 57 per cent to Purnama on 43 per cent.
More than 7.2 million people were registered to vote in the polls, which are also important as politicians view them as a potential stepping stone to the presidency in 2019.
After an anti-Purnama protest last year turned violent, authorities were taking no chances and over 60,000 security force personnel had been deployed but there was little sign of unrest.
Purnama’s long-running blasphemy trial began in December.
Prosecutors are due to recommend a sentence today, and a verdict is expected within weeks.
Many voters still supported Purnama due to his performance as governor since 2014.
He had won praise for cleaning up once-filthy rivers and creating more green spaces, although his acerbic style had upset some.