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Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 22:54

Pollsters: Muslim candidate wins Jakarta election

By Reuters
Pollsters: Muslim candidate wins Jakarta election
Gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan shows his ink-dipped fingers after giving his vote during the local election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

JAKARTA - A former Indonesian education minister won the race for Jakarta governor on Wednesday after a polarizing campaign that cast a shadow over Indonesia's reputation for practicing a tolerant form of Islam.

Anies Baswedan won with 58 percent of the votes versus 42 percent for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his Chinese nickname as "Ahok", based on 100 percent of the votes in an unofficial "quick count" by Indikator Politik. Other pollsters showed similar results.

The national elections commission will announce official results in early May.

The turbulent 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.

Pollsters: Muslim candidate wins Jakarta election
Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama who is seeking for his second term in office, his wife Veronica and son Nicholas, left, cast their ballot at a polling station during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017. Residents of the Indonesian capital are electing a governor after a polarizing campaign. (Tatan Syuflana / AP)

"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.

The Jakarta election will be seen as a barometer for the 2019 presidential election

Baswedan's huge margin of victory 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.

Indonesian social media users likened the election outcome to the shock results of the US presidential vote and the Brexit vote of last year.

One Twitter user, @fuadhn, said Indonesians "can feel what US and British citizens feel now. Welcome populism..."

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.

2019 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

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.

Pollsters: Muslim candidate wins Jakarta election
A masked man holds an anti-Ahok sign during a protest against Jakarta's minority Christian Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama at the main business district in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 31, 2017. (Tatan Syuflana / AP)

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.

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.

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.

Ismail Yusanto, spokesman for one of the groups, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, said the election showed that Jakarta voters didn't want a non-Muslim leader.

"It is forbidden under Islamic law, to have an infidel leader," he told Reuters.

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