Early results show defeat for Jakarta’s Christian governor

In Photo: Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama (left) speaks to the media with his deputy and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat (right) during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 19. Unofficial results showed the minority Christian governor was resoundingly defeated on Wednesday by his Muslim challenger, after a campaign that cracked open religious and racial divides in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Unofficial results showed the minority Christian governor of the Indonesian capital was resoundingly defeated on Wednesday by his Muslim challenger who swept up votes by appealing to a growing conservatism in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

So-called quick counts by 10 research companies show former Cabinet Minister Anies Baswedan winning between 55 percent and 60 percent of votes with more than 80 percent of ballots counted.

Incumbent Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama is on trial for blasphemy, and hundreds of thousands protested against him in Jakarta, deriding his Chinese ancestry and calling for him to be imprisoned or killed.

Baswedan, highly educated and with a moderate Muslim background, capitalized on the backlash against Ahok by courting the support of conservative clerics and figures on the radical fringe who opposed electing a non-Muslim.

The polarizing campaign gave hard-line Islamic groups a national stage and has undermined Indonesia’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.

Ahok’s defeat is a setback for his political patron, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who on Thursday hosts Vice President Mike Pence on the Indonesian leg of an Asian tour.

Ahok’s rival Baswedan was supported by the political and business elite that Jokowi unexpectedly bested in the 2014 presidential election and who will be seeking to unseat him in 2019.

Ahok congratulated Baswedan on his apparent victory and urged Indonesians to forget the acrimony of the campaign. Baswedan told reporters that he is committed to maintaining the diversity of Jakarta and will emphasize social justice.

Ahok, 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 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 Ahok telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from electing a non-Muslim as leader. Hard-line groups drew huge crowds to protests in Jakarta, shaking Jokowi’s centrist government. He was accused of blasphemy.

Opinion polls released earlier in the week seriously miscalled the outcome of Wednesday’s vote, showing Baswedan and Ahok neck-and-neck.

In the west Jakarta neighborhood of Kebon Jeruk, Annisa Karolina, a 29-year-old restaurant cashier, said voting for a non-Muslim would be a sin, but she also believes Jakarta will be better run without Ahok.

A couple standing near her at the polling booth nodded in agreement. “Yes, we need a new governor, a well-mannered Muslim governor who isn’t protycoons and businessmen, but who is also helping the poor,” one of them, Faturrachman, said.

More than 7 million people were eligible to vote, and thousands of police and military personnel were deployed to secure the 13,000-plus polling places.

Prosecutors seek two years probation for Jakarta gov

Prosecutors on Thursday recommended two years of probation for Ahok, who is on trial for blaspheming the Quran.

The relatively light sentencing demand comes a day after Ahok was swept out of office by a landslide election victory for a Muslim rival backed by conservative clerics. The maximum penalty for blasphemy in Muslim-majority Indonesia is five years in prison. Prosecutors recommended one year prison if Ahok violates his probation.

Pence praises Indonesia’s democratic, tolerant values 

Vice President Mike Pence praised Indonesia’s democracy and moderate form of Islam after meeting on Thursday with the president of the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The comments, though routine, had significance for Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who, the day before, suffered a serious political setback when a political ally was defeated by Islamic conservatives in the election for Jakarta governor. The divisive campaign undermined the image of Indonesia abroad as a generally tolerant Muslim nation.

Indonesia is the latest stop on an Asian tour by Pence that is reinforcing traditional United States alliances at a time when Donald J. Trump’s presidency has raised questions about the strength of the US commitment to the region.

Pence said at a joint press conference with Jokowi that the US wants to strengthen its strategic partnership with Indonesia. In brief comments, Jokowi said they agreed to boost cooperation.

The vice president praised Indonesia for the moderate form of Islam it practices and said the two countries would continue to cooperate on combating terrorism. The US and Indonesia share democratic values, he said.

But Pence foreshadowed some reworking of commercial and economic ties, saying US exporters should face a level playing field, and the relationship should be “win-win”.

Indonesia is on Trump’s trade hit list, and US company Freeport-McMoran Inc., which operates the world’s largest copper mine in the Indonesian province of Papua, is in a protracted dispute with the Indonesian government.

Pence’s first engagement was morning tea with Jokowi at the presidential palace. Later Thursday Pence was to visit Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.

Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is active in Indonesia with plans to manage luxury resorts being built near the capital Jakarta and on the tourist island of Bali.

Trump’s Indonesian business partner, billionaire Hary Tanoe, is an aspiring politician who has said he might run for president in 2019.

Image Credits: AP/Dita Alangkara