Indonesian President Joko Widodo meets officials to discuss security measures for Jakarta election

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has gathered top security and intelligence officials for a meeting to discuss extensive security measures that would include the deployment of more than 60,000 security personnel in the capital to safeguard Wednesday's (April 19) Jakarta election.

The meeting on Monday comes as sectarian tensions are running high in the run-up to the Jakarta gubernatorial runoff election.

In another move to ease political tensions, Mr Joko also held a meeting on Monday with Islamic leaders and senior Muslim clerics, urging them to promote unity ahead of election day on Wednesday, when Jakarta voters will choose between incumbent pair Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama and Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat or rivals Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno.

In an apparent gesture to show that his government would handle the election-related security problems seriously, Mr Joko made a choreographed appearance on the veranda of the State Palace together with Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto, State Intelligence Agency chief General Budi Gunawan, National Police chief General Tito Karnavian and Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gatot Nurmantyo.

Mr Joko said when voters exercised their political rights on Wednesday they should be able to do so without facing intimidation from any parties.

"All residents of Jakarta have to be able to vote freely without any intimidation. I have instructed the TNI and National Police to ensure safety on voting day," Mr Joko told reporters on Monday.

The president said the TNI and police personnel would guard all polling stations on Wednesday and would crack down on any efforts to intimidate voters.

Speaking after Mr Joko, Mr Wiranto urged voters to exercise their rights independently and not be swayed by public opinion polls, noting that pollsters could be biased in their results.

"We encourage people to not be influenced by survey results that claim to present the truth," Mr Wiranto said.

Four out of five surveys released last week showed Mr Anies in the lead, albeit with small margins, with a recent survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia showing the margin to be a razor thin 0.8 per cent.

Following his meeting with the top security officials, Mr Joko held a meeting with a number of Muslim clerics at the State Palace, during which the President asked for their help to ease tension ahead of election day.

Among the Muslim clerics at the meeting were Indonesian Ulema Council chairman Maruf Amin, former Constitutional Court chief Jimly Asshiddiqie, former court justices Hamdan Zoelva and Mahfud MD and popular Muslim preachers Arifin Ilham and Yusuf Mansur.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Maruf said the Muslim clerics had agreed to help reduce tension ahead of voting day by urging supporters of both candidates to not gather around polling stations, as such a move could be seen as an effort to intimidate voters.

"The President asked us to help keep the situation peaceful in Jakarta so that the country could remain united. There shouldn't be any efforts to mobilise people to Jakarta," Mr Maruf said.

A number of Islamic groups have reportedly been planning to encourage large numbers of people, including those from outside Jakarta, to flood the capital and guard the polling stations.

Police have said they would crack down on any efforts to mobilise people on election day.

Separately, leaders from interfaith groups also called for a peaceful election.

Joining the call were leaders from the country's largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Indonesia Bishops Conference, the Indonesian Communion of Churches, the Nichiren Shoshu Indonesia, the Indonesian Parisada Hindu Council and the Confucian Supreme Council of Indonesia.

During the interfaith meeting, leaders from the organisations called for calm and urged candidates and their supporters to accept the outcome of the election.

"We need to remain calm, resolute and clear-headed in dealing with the situation. We must support the government's efforts in handling the runoff election. We must also safeguard the unity of the nation," representatives of each organisation said in a joint statement made at the NU headquarters in Central Jakarta.

NU chairman Said Aqil Siradj said he denounced the planned action by some of the Islamic groups to guard the polling stations.

"That is unnecessary. We already have election bodies that organise and supervise the elections. We also have witnesses dispatched by both candidates. Let's just trust them," he said.