Jakarta’s Christian governor looked set for a tough run-off against a Muslim opponent in city elections seen as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia, after a tight first round on Wednesday.
Analysts believe incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is standing trial for blasphemy, is unlikely to win in a second round against ex-education minister Anies Baswedan, as Muslim voters swing behind Anies.
Purnama, once the odds-on favourite to win the gubernatorial election, held a narrow lead of about 43 per cent to Baswedan’s 39 per cent in the first round, according to early vote tallies by private pollsters.
Baswedan exclaimed “Thanks be to God!” on learning of the tallies, adding: “At the end of the day, the people of Jakarta want change… this is not about the complexities of politics, it is about what matters in life.”
Third candidate Agus Yudhoyono, the son of a former president, was trailing far behind on about 17 per cent, according to the pollsters. Official results will not be released for several weeks but the early tallies, known as “quick counts”, are regarded as reliable.
Local polls were taking place across Indonesia on Wednesday but the race in the capital was the most hotly contested, with the top job in Jakarta seen as a stepping stone to victory in the 2019 presidential polls.
Run-off elections will be held in April. Purnama has been put on trial in a case criticised as unfair and politically motivated.
He was not barred from running but his popularity was dented for a period.
Any run-off between Purnama and Baswedan — who courted hardline group the Islamic Defenders Front, which organised the anti-Purnama protests — could stoke religious tensions further after months of dirty campaigning, analysts warn.
In the unlikely event that Purnama wins and is convicted of blasphemy, which could see him sentenced to up to five years in prison, he would not automatically be barred from holding office and could avoid jail for a long time by filing successive appeals.
Authorities were taking no chances after the tense campaign, with thousands of police and troops deployed around the capital on election day.