Jakarta’s future still uncertain, headed for runoff election in April
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Jakarta’s future still uncertain, headed for runoff election in April

PERHAPS the most anticipated election for Jakarta’s governor in the city’s history has proved inconclusive.

While 101 local elections were held across Indonesia on Wednesday, all attention was focused on the capital for the possible end of a gubernatorial election campaign that has divided citizens along racial and religious lines. The election is also seen by many as a proxy war for the 2019 presidential race.

But as the quick count results came in from various pollsters, it became apparent that no candidate had secured the 50 percent required for a first-round victory. This means there will be a runoff election held on April 19.

Incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and running mate Djarot Saiful Murni came out in the lead with around 43 percent of the vote, while Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno were close behind at about 40 percent of votes. Agus Harimutri Yudhoyono and Sylviana Murni are out of the race – behind by a large 20-point margin at around 17 percent.

Voter turnout was reportedly at a record high of more than 80 percent. The official election results will be released later this month.

“The result shouldn’t be surprising to those who follow credible polls,” Ross Tapsell of the Australian National University told Asian Correspondent. Unlike with the recent US election, most opinion polls seem to have presented an accurate depiction of voter sentiment.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: All eyes on the capital as Jakartans vote in regional polls

Polling company Indikator last week showed percentage support for the candidates roughly similar to the outcome of the quick count – taking into consideration 6.5% of then-undecided voters.

Only Agus’ votes on election day were lower than predicted, perhaps hurt by controversies caused in the past week by his father, ex-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The candidate’s performance in recent televised debates had also seen his previously-strong support slip, as the candidate was widely mocked for seeming unprepared and lacking in policy detail. Yudhoyono conceded defeat in the election on Wednesday evening, congratulating his opponents.

This gubernatorial race has been dominated by the role of religion in politics and whether Muslims can vote for a candidate of another religion. When during the campaign Ahok referred to a Quranic verse regarding non-Muslim leadership of Muslims he was reported for blasphemy, sparking numerous mass demonstrations by hardline Islamic groups that brought Jakarta to a standstill.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Massive crowd rallies against ‘blasphemous’ Jakarta governor

A recent poll of voters by Nathanael Gratias Sumaktoyo at the University of Notre Dame suggested that the incumbent’s Chinese ethnicity, more so than his Christian faith, would dampen his chances with Muslim voters. Nevertheless, Ahok still outperformed his rivals.

Ironically, Ahok proved the most popular candidate in Pulau Seribu, the Thousand Islands, where he allegedly committed blasphemy last year. The incumbent governor even managed to win the most votes at a polling booth adjacent to the headquarters of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who have campaigned against the governor on the basis of race and religion since he was running in the 2012 campaign alongside now-president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Baswedan poses late challenge in Wednesday’s vote for Jakarta governor

Anies Baswedan, who had trailed his opponents in opinion polls for months, emerged as a dark horse to perform very well. An ex-national education minister with a reputation for promoting liberal Islam, Anies received criticism during the campaign for courting conservative Islamic voters, including by meeting with the FPI.

The Anies-Sandiaga campaign thanked their voters via Twitter with the trending hashtag #TerimakasihSudahPilih3 or “thank you for already voting 3”, the running mates’ number on the ballot. On Wednesday afternoon, Baswedan stated that he was open to an arrangement with Agus Yudhoyono to secure his votes for the second round in April.

A lot can happen in two months. Hardline groups will likely continue to campaign against Ahok as he returns to work as governor, whilst Anies must win over Agus voters and persuade them to go to the polls yet again. According to Ahmad Junaidi from the Indonesian Journalists Assocation for Diversity, “wooing moderate Muslims is likely a strategy of candidates in the second round.”

Whether Ahok’s track record of governance is enough to sway Agus fans “will be a tough ask for his team,” says Tapsell, “but they will continue to focus on his successful policies as a way to sway voters in the lead-up to April.”

After he voted, Jokowi declared that “we hope that everybody can return as a family after these elections.” Given Ahok’s initial success and ongoing blasphemy case, however, lowered political tension seems unlikely. At least before a definitive result is reached in April.

Ahok may have won this battle, but he definitely hasn’t won the war.