No clear winner for Jakarta election as divisive second round looms

There is no clear winner in the race to be Jakarta’s next governor and the election must go to a second round, say unofficial results. The incumbent Ahok seems to have polled in the lead but can a Christian really continue to govern Jakarta’s increasingly conservative Muslim majority?

By Oliver Ward, edited by Holly Reeves

The candidates in the hotly contested race to be governor of Jakarta are heading into a second round of voting, say unofficial quick counts. Preliminary results of the first vote show Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known affectionately as Ahok, received 43.08% of the popular vote. His main rival, former education minister, Anies Baswedan received 40.14%.  A winning candidate needs 50% of the public vote.

Official results will be announced in March and a second round is anticipated to take place in April. Irine Gayatri, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, predicts ethnicity and religion will continue to be a decisive issue.

The second round of voting is likely to be even closer

Angus Yudhoyono came in at third place with an estimated 17.05% of the vote and will not participate in the second round. His voters will shape the second vote as they move their support to Ahok or Anies. Ray Rangkuti, Director of Lingkar Madani Indonesia explained “it is almost certain that the second round will stay tight… both candidate pairs have the same chance to become governor-elect.”

Angus supporters from the National Mandate Party will likely vote for Anies in a second round, as their political alignment shares little with Ahok. The remaining Angus supporters of the National Awakening Party and the United Development Party are less clear cut and could back either candidate.

Religious and Political divisions will continue

Deep religious tensions have loomed over these elections. Governor Ahok, an ethnic Chinese-Indonesian Christian, was accused of blasphemy last year. He allegedly referenced a verse from the Qur’an during his election campaign. Ahok has been on trial since December, although he denies the charge. There have been protests against the incumbent governor from the majority Muslim population, and many are voicing their desires to see a Muslim governing the city.

Muslim voters have been enthusiastic in their support for second-placed Baswedan. In fact, the anti-Ahok sentiment has been far stronger than genuine interest for his policies. He has been able to remain mostly quiet while other candidates fought their political battles. Jokowi’s support for Ahok has compounded this.

The Widodo government recently clashed with high-profile religious organisations, like the Council of Indonesian Ulema (MUI), over the authority to issue halal certificates. The Muslim population sees this as a government attempt to take profits away from Islamic organisations and divert them into government coffers. Ahok’s association with Widodo as one of the “new wave politicians” and as his former deputy, has allowed Baswedan to capitalise on these tensions and pick up the anti-Widodo votes.

Islamist preachers have strongly endorsed Muslim candidates

Muslim voters have been urged by Islamist groups not to vote for a non-Muslim candidate in these elections. Muslim televangelists like Abdullah Gymnastiar are preaching into people’s living rooms, spreading the idea that the Koran demands that Muslim people have Muslim leaders. Their message has resonated among Jakarta’s Muslim population.

Jakarta Islamic Center Volunteer, Suci, explained, “I am Muslim and I will only accept Muslims as my leaders.” Jaswandi Suhardono, a hospital technician, also voted for Baswedan for religious reasons, “as a Muslim I believe there is one faith I should trust”. He added that “in the Qur´an it says that we must choose leaders that are also Muslim”.

The contest represents more than just the governing of Jakarta

The position of Governor of Jakarta is seen as a channel to the presidency since Joko Widodo used the job as a stepping stone to winning the general election in 2014. Whoever wins this seat in 2017 will give a strong indication of what to expect in the 2019 presidential election. The victor will be in an influential position to run for the presidency, or at least to ensure their party has a significant advantage going into that election. Widodo has been enthusiastically throwing his support behind Ahok for this reason.

The position also generates significant party funding. The governor of Jakarta commands a budget of RP62 trillion (US$4.6 billion) and is in charge of state-owned businesses, worth a colossal RP82 trillion (US$6.1 billion).

The outcome will dictate the future relationship between politics and minority groups

Tobias Basuki, a researcher for The Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained there is an additional meaning to the election outcome, as “If Ahok [were] to lose… Islamists will use it to change Islam into Indonesia to their own meaning.” Indonesia has always practised a form of tolerant Islam and President Obama praised Indonesia’s “spirit or tolerance” when he spoke at the University of Indonesia in 2010. In recent years, however, the population have become more conservative.

Ahok is a leading example of minority representation in government and both his Chinese and Christian identity have been used against him in public mudslinging campaigns. If he loses it will undoubtedly dissuade parties from fielding minority candidates in the future. Greg Fealy, a professor at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, highlighted that “if there was a major position, like the governor of East Java, for a minority, this is too big a risk.”

Ahok is resilient

Ahok remains very much in the race and enjoys strong public support in forward-thinking Jakarta. A vote for Ahok represents a vote for a new way of doing politics and the more his opponents attack him on his ethnicity and religion, the more support he gets from voters tired of politics split down religious lines. Criticism of Ahok from groups like Hizbut-Tahrir and the aggressive Islamic Defenders Front are pushing progressive voters towards him as they attempt to disassociate themselves from the hate-filled rhetoric.

This election has held a mirror up to the feelings of Indonesians and shown that ethnic rhetoric and religious narratives have taken on a new importance in politics. The second round of voting will pit a single Christian candidate against a single Muslim candidate. Regardless of the outcome, the campaign will have taught all parties a valuable lesson for the 2019 general election. In modern Indonesia, identity matters as much as policy.