Jakarta gubernatorial election: Over 7 million set to vote

From left: Incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama shaking the hand of his deputy, Mr Djarot Saiful Hidayat, as rival candidate for the gubernatorial election Anies Baswedan hugs his running mate, Mr Sandiaga Uno, at a televised debate last
From left: Incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama shaking the hand of his deputy, Mr Djarot Saiful Hidayat, as rival candidate for the gubernatorial election Anies Baswedan hugs his running mate, Mr Sandiaga Uno, at a televised debate last Wednesday. One survey showed the incumbents scoring a higher positive sentiment rating, while another showed that support for them has been on the uptrend. But as many as a fifth of voters are still undecided.PHOTO: REUTERS

Security stepped up in Indonesian capital ahead of gubernatorial election tomorrow

A crowd gathered at City Hall yesterday morning, many as early as 6am, to meet Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama as he returned to work after weeks of campaigning for re-election.

The motley crew included residents, office workers and youngsters, as well as an odd mix of middle-aged Chinese men in bermudas and women in colourful hijabs.

Some were there to seek help with bread-and-butter or municipal issues, while others were just hoping to snap a selfie with the charismatic politician, better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok.

Tomorrow, more than seven million people will cast their votes in the Jakarta gubernatorial election.

It has been a long-drawn but highly charged campaign, which started last October and headed into a run-off after none of the candidates secured the majority needed to win in round one of the polls on Feb 15.

The race has been run amid the rise of religious and racial intolerance.

It has also been punctuated by street protests and attempted coups against the central government, as well as Basuki standing trial for blasphemy.

These have been the sources of tension in the city, which explains why 65,000 security personnel, including more than 35,000 police officers and 15,000 soldiers, will be out in force on election day.

All eyes will be on quick counts of the votes, usually released later in the day as polls close, for an indication of whether Basuki can fend off his conservative Muslim rival, Mr Anies Baswedan, and stay in office.

PLAYING THE RELIGION CARD

Among the negative issues directed at Anies-Sandi were criticism on their work programmes, legal allegations and campaigning on Sara.

POLITICAWAVE CHIEF EXECUTIVE YOSE RIZAL, referring to the Indonesian acronym for ethnicity, religion, race and class.

If he does, Basuki will be the first Chinese-Christian, a double minority in Indonesia, to be elected governor. He was deputy governor when he inherited the post from Mr Joko Widodo, after the latter was elected President in 2014.

Surveys conducted last November saw Basuki's electability plummet to 31.1 per cent after he was accused of insulting Islam last September.

That was half of what he and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat usually poll, and the lowest among his early rivals.

Mr Anies and his running-mate, Mr Sandiaga Uno, have capitalised on the blasphemy scandal and often played the religion card. They even cozied up to Muslim hardliners such as Islamic Defenders' Front chairman Rizieq Shihab, the controversial leader behind the massive anti-Ahok street rallies.

But Politicawave chief executive Yose Rizal said that move may have hurt their popularity. An analysis of more than 2.2 million people on social media by Politicawave showed Ajok-Djarot scoring a higher positive sentiment rating (55 per cent) than Anies-Sandiaga (46 per cent).

"Among the negative issues directed at Anies-Sandi were criticism on their work programmes, legal allegations and campaigning on Sara," said Mr Yose, referring to the Indonesian acronym for ethnicity, religion, race and class.

Charta Politika executive director Yunarto Wijaya said support for Ajok-Djarot has been on an uptrend over the last four months, according to a survey of 782 voters. But as many as a fifth of voters are still undecided, he noted.

Meanwhile, Basuki will have one eye on his court hearing set for Thursday. He will find out if the final charges to be tendered by prosecutors against him come with a maximum penalty of five years' jail.

Indonesian law does not allow anyone sentenced to five years' jail or more to hold public office.

But lawyers have said it is unlikely that Basuki will be given such a long sentence for blasphemy. And even if he was slapped with such an extraordinary punishment, he can still appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline 'Over 7 million set to vote in Jakarta'. Print Edition | Subscribe