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Vying to be Jakarta governor

Mr Basuki on the campaign trail for the upcoming election for governor in Jakarta. His direct communication style has made him both friends and foes.
Mr Basuki on the campaign trail for the upcoming election for governor in Jakarta. His direct communication style has made him both friends and foes.PHOTO: REUTERS

Campaigning for February's election for the next Jakarta governor began last month. Incumbent Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama has been leading in the opinion polls but has seen his numbers slip of late. Mr Basuki was officially named a suspect in a blasphemy case last week, a development some observers described as a gift to his two main challengers - Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and Mr Anies Baswedan.

Campaigning for February's election for the next Jakarta governor began last month. Incumbent Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama has been leading in the opinion polls but has seen his numbers slip of late. Mr Basuki was officially named a suspect in a blasphemy case last week, a development some observers described as a gift to his two main challengers - Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and Mr Anies Baswedan.

Incumbent known for being honest, no-nonsense guy

The proverb "A thousand friends are few; one enemy is too many" does not apply to public servants, Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama once said memorably.

"If we want to make changes, to help people, it's just too much to listen to everybody's suggestions," Mr Basuki, or better known as Ahok, told CCTV in fluent Mandarin in an interview last year.

The 50-year-old has evicted slum dwellers, scolded incompetent government workers, and criticised the Trade Ministry's move to restrict beer sales.

"What's so wrong about beer? No one has ever died from drinking beer," he had said, sparking a war of words with officials.

The Chinese-Christian governor is seeking re-election next year, with his current deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat as his running mate. The incumbent has sailed ahead of rivals Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and Anies Baswedan in opinion polls, thanks to his work performance and firm, no-nonsense style.

 
 

A member of Parliament under the Golkar party, Ahok quit the House to become President Joko Widodo's running mate in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial election.

The native of Manggar, a small town in Bangka-Belitung province off the east of Sumatra, later assumed the governor job when Mr Joko became President in 2014.

While Ahok's honesty has made him likeable and real, such a communication style does not sit well with some in a country where respectful and indirect speech is the norm. Even his wife, Ms Veronica Tan, whom he met at church, told a TV station three years ago that she had hesitated about dating him as "he was like a cowboy who spoke without any inhibition". They now have three children.

"Indeed he has a careless mouth," Mr Muhammad Qodari, a political analyst from Jakarta-based pollster Indo Barometer, told The Straits Times. Ahok's outspokenness has landed him in trouble, and the latest - perhaps also the costliest incident - was when he told constituents not to be swayed by his opponents when they referred to a Quranic verse to urge Muslims not to vote for non-Muslim leaders.

That video was uploaded online, sparking a mass protest by Muslim hardliners on Nov 4 and leading to his being named as a blasphemy suspect by the police.

Analysts said it is still early days to speculate if this will translate to lost votes at the ballot box, but it has certainly made the competition stiffer. Supporters have not written him off, but are waiting for police investigations to be completed before they decide.

Whatever the outcome, the Jakarta governor is a man with a strong sense of mission. Asked about his name on a local talkshow once, he said Basuki meant success and prosperity. "Tjahaja Purnama", he said, literally translates to "light of the moon", adding "this means when I have achieved success, I must brighten the lives of others too".

Respected Muslim scholar sets sights on top office

A renowned Muslim scholar listed among the world's top 100 public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine in 2008, Mr Anies Baswedan has made no bones about wanting to be Indonesia's next president.

The 47-year-old former rector of Paramadina University in Jakarta is widely respected as an academic who has spoken about the role of Islam in Indonesian democracy at global forums.

His most notable achievement was initiating Gerakan Indonesia Mengajar, or the "Teaching Indonesia" movement, which has recruited and trained young volunteer professionals to teach poor Indonesians in remote regions countrywide.

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Son of ex-president has 3 Bs that give him an edge

Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono has no political experience, but can bank on bibit, bebet and bobot - Indonesian for heredity, social standing and quality respectively - to propel him in the polls.

As the eldest son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he has a famous last name.

And at 38, Mr Agus, who has a master's degree from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), is the youngest of the candidates.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Incumbent known for being honest, no-nonsense guy'. Print Edition | Subscribe