JAKARTA • The governor of Indonesia's capital Jakarta, the first ethnic Chinese and Christian in the job, is losing support in his bid for re-election as allegations that he insulted the Quran increasingly put off Muslim voters.
An opinion poll published on Thursday showed support for Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, has plunged from 60 per cent in March to 25 per cent. More than 100,000 Muslims marched in Jakarta last week to demand his resignation and urge voters not to re-elect him in February, raising concerns over the rise of hardline Islamists in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.
A survey last month by pollster Lingkaran Survei Indonesia (LSI), taken before the protest, showed his support at 31 per cent.
"The controversy over the comments on the Quran is a factor affecting his electability, and resistance is rising against a non-Muslim leader," said Mr Adjie Alfaraby of LSI.
The vast majority of Indonesians practise a moderate form of Islam and faith is not often a determining factor in elections, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Jakarta.
But the poll showed changing opinions among the city's Muslim voters.
"There would be religious sentiment in the election, but it wouldn't be so strong were it not for the (blasphemy) case," Mr Alfaraby said. "We are seeing less rational voters, and more voters choosing based on other factors."
Muslim groups have accused Mr Basuki of blasphemy after he said his opponents had deceived voters by attacking him using a verse from the Quran.
Police are investigating the case against the governor, who has apologised for the comments.
But Mr Basuki, a Protestant known as a tough reformer with an abrasive tongue, still remains ahead of his rivals - former education minister Anies Baswedan, and Mr Agus Yudhoyono, the son of Indonesia's previous president. A third of voters remain undecided.
Governing Jakarta, a city of 10 million, is often seen as a stepping stone to higher political office.
Mr Basuki took over the governorship in 2014 when his then boss, Mr Joko Widodo, stepped down to contest and win the presidency.
Census data shows only about 1 per cent of Indonesians are ethnic Chinese and about 7 per cent are Protestants.
Meanwhile, Mr Basuki yesterday described as "barbaric" the way his campaign visits to several areas were rejected by residents, referring to shouts of "Reject Ahok" and other protesters displaying posters to reject him, Kompas newspaper reported.
"Why do they use such barbaric ways? There is also a hoax message circulating, saying that on Nov 18, there will be between five and 25 million people (gathering in an upcoming rally).
"This country could disintegrate if they continue using such ways," kompas.com reported him as saying.