Q&A: What's at stake in Indonesian capital's heated election

AP News
Posted: Feb 13, 2017 7:23 PM
Q&A: What's at stake in Indonesian capital's heated election

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Residents of Indonesia's capital vote Wednesday in an election for governor that has become a high-stakes tussle between conservative and moderate forces in the world's most populous Muslim nation. Religion and race, rather than the slew of problems that face a car-clogged and sinking Jakarta, have dominated the campaign. Answers to some of the questions surrounding the election:



The Jakarta vote is by far the most heated of the more than 100 elections for mayors and governors that will be held in Indonesia on Wednesday. Voters are polarized about incumbent Jakarta Gov. Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a minority Christian and ethnic Chinese, who is on trial for allegedly blaspheming the Quran.

Ahok, the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta and the first Christian in more than half a century, had seemed unassailably popular until the accusation of blasphemy, a criminal offense in Indonesia, surfaced in September. Protests against him in November and December, organized by hard-line Islamic groups, drew hundreds of thousands to Jakarta's streets and shook the centrist-minded government of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.



Ahok's blasphemy trial and the ease with which hard-liners attracted huge crowds to protest against him have undermined Indonesia's reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam. Calls for Ahok to be killed and anti-Chinese sentiment were disturbing elements of the protests, one of which turned violent, with dozens injured and one person dying from the effects of tear gas.

Defeat for Ahok would further embolden hard-liners, who say a non-Muslim should not lead Muslims, though also deprive them of the cause celebre that has allowed them to capture a national stage. The governorship is also seen as a launching pad into national politics and possibly the presidency.



Ahok: He rose from deputy governor in 2014 after Jokowi, who was Jakarta governor at the time, won the presidency. Middle class Jakartans adored Ahok, 50, for his campaign against corruption and efforts to make the city livable. But brutal demolitions of some of the slum neighborhoods that are home to millions and ill-considered outspokenness on sensitive issues would become his Achilles' heel. 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. That led to the blasphemy charges and mass protests that sunk him in the polls, though his support has risen again following a series of televised debates.

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono: A former army major who is the son of ex-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Local media say he was instructed by his father to resign from the army and campaign for governor. The photogenic 38-year-old surged to a lead in opinion polls during the anti-Ahok protests in November and December, which were also given vocal backing by his father. He performed poorly in the televised debates and recent polls show his support melting away. He attended mass prayers Saturday at Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque, where clerics urged people to vote for Muslim candidates.

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Anies Rasyid Baswedan: A political party hopper who was education minister in Jokowi's government until being dumped in a reshuffle last July. Baswedan, 47, unsuccessfully sought to be the candidate for Yudhoyono's Democratic Party in the 2014 presidential election and then joined Jokowi's campaign team. After being dumped from the Cabinet, he allied with Prabowo, the main rival to Jokowi in the 2014 election, who encouraged him to become the Gerindra party's candidate for governor. In an effort to win the support of the anti-Ahok camp, Baswedan had a high-profile public meeting with Islamic Defenders Front leader Rizieq Shihab, a key figure behind the Jakarta protests. He has recently surged in the polls.



So-called "quick count" results compiled by researchers stationed at a sample of the 13,000 polling places will give a reliable indication of the election outcome within hours of the polls closing at 1 p.m. Some 7 million people are eligible to vote in Jakarta and official results will be declared on Feb. 27. However, it's unlikely that any of the three candidates will get the 50 percent of votes required for an outright win. That would lead to a runoff in April between the top two polling candidates. One scenario is that Ahok proceeds to the second election but is defeated by anti-Ahok voters uniting behind the remaining Muslim candidate.


Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report.