Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, has conceded defeat in his attempt to secure re-election, ending a campaign fuelled by religious and ethnic recriminations.
His defeat marks a victory for Indonesia’s conservative Muslims, who have campaigned strongly against the ethnic-Chinese governor.
Indonesia has sought to promote pluralism since violent riots in 1998 targeted the tiny but affluent ethnic-Chinese community.
“We should forget the difference. We are all the same,” Ahok said after it looked like he was trailing Anies Baswedan, 47, a former education and culture minister (pictured in 2016 before he adopted Muslim dress for the campaign).
“Now we start a new chapter, and we should work together to improve this city,” Anies told supporters.
A sample count extracted from the nearly six million ballots cast showed Anies had secured 58 per cent of the vote, against 42 per cent for Ahok.
Ahok’s no-nonsense style, honesty and work ethic had been hailed by investors after decades of sluggish bureaucracy in the sprawling, congested capital.
Muslim Anies was backed by groups such as the conservative Islam Defenders Front (IDF) aligned to the opposition leader Prabowo Subianto, who lost the presidential election to Joko Widodo in 2014. Anies was education minister until he was sacked last year.
The official result, unlikely to be released for at least a fortnight, will encourage the use of religion as a political tool in future elections.
“There will not be any drastic changes to Jakarta, Anies will not apply Sharia law, but now this is a steep learning curve for politicians and political parties at seeing how religious issues are, even when used against an incumbent who was performing very well,” said Tobias Basuki of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
President Joko Widodo said no political differences should “break our unity”.
“We are all brothers and sisters. Whoever is elected, we must accept,” he told the media. The president is a close ally of Ahok and it is unclear what impact his defeat will have on Joko in the 2019 presidential election.
“In the short term, it’s a blow to him, but we’ll have to see. So much can change so quickly here,” said Ian Wilson of the Australia’s Murdoch University Asia Research Centre.
The Jakarta Post editorial said the election campaign was “the dirtiest, most polarising and most divisive the nation has ever seen, far worse than that for the 2014 presidential election”.
Picture credit: Flickr