Indonesia’s former minister of education won on Wednesday the race for the position of Jakarta governor. The campaign has however been overshadowed by religious disputes that have tarnished the Asian country’s reputation as a moderate Muslim state.
Anies Baswedan won with 58 percent of the votes versus 42 percent for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as “Ahok”, based on a quick sample count of over half the vote by Indikator Politik.
The national elections commission will announce official results in early May.
Baswedan’s huge lead was surprising since opinion polls in the run-up to the election had pointed to a dead-heat. Purnama won the first round of voting for governor in February in a three-way race.
The election came on the eve of a visit by US Vice President Mike Pence, as the Trump administration seeks to engage the world’s fourth-largest nation and largest Muslim-majority country as an emerging regional power.
Pence is scheduled on Thursday to visit the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia, Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque.
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 center.
Purnama is backed by President Joko Widodo’s ruling party.
Baswedan is supported by a retired general, Prabowo Subianto, who narrowly lost to Widodo in a 2014 presidential vote and is expected to challenge him again.
But the election is also viewed as a test for Indonesia’s young democracy and record of religious tolerance.
The campaign featured mass rallies led by a hardline Islamist movement, which has strengthened in recent years in a country long dominated by a moderate form of Islam. More than 80 percent of Indonesia’s population professes Islam.
“Going forward, the politics of religion is going to be a potent force,” said Keith Loveard, an analyst at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting and an author of books about Indonesian politics.
Some voters may have been reluctant to vote for Purnama because of worries about “five more years of protests on the streets by Muslim hardliners,” Loveard said in a telephone interview.
Police said 15 people were detained following reports of disturbances at several polling stations in the city of 10 million people, after what the Jakarta Post this week dubbed “the dirtiest, most polarizing 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 Purnama on trial for blasphemy over comments he made last year that many took to be insulting to Islam.
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. One person died and more than 100 were injured after one protest turned violent.
Baswedan, a respected scholar who many viewed as moderate, drew widespread criticism during the campaign when he aggressively courted the conservative Islamic vote, appearing publicly with hardline Islamic leaders during anti-Purnama rallies.
Baswedan, surrounded by his political patrons including Prabowo, struck a reconciliatory tone at a news conference after unofficial results came in, pledging to “safeguard diversity and unity”.
Purnama faces up to five years in jail if convicted of blasphemy. His trial will resume on Thursday, when prosecutors will submit a sentence request.
Purnama, who was Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese governor and first Christian in half a century, has been popular with middle-class Jakartans for his efforts to stamp out corruption in the city administration and make the overflowing polluted capital more livable.
But his brash manner and evictions of slum communities alienated many in the city of 10 million.
Opponents seized their moment last year when a video surfaced of Purnama telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from electing a non-Muslim as leader.