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Indonesia

Jakarta's Christian governor faces tough run-off vote

Church leaders laud peaceful local elections across Indonesia

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Jakarta's Christian governor faces tough run-off vote

Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (center) gestures as he meets his supporters and the media after voting in local elections in Jakarta on Feb. 15. Jakarta's Christian governor was heading for a tough run-off against a Muslim opponent in city elections seen as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

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Incumbent Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is bracing for a tough run-off election after all three candidates failed to claim outright victory in a tight Jakarta gubernatorial poll on Feb. 15.

Jakarta was one of seven provinces that held gubernatorial elections on Feb. 15, along with 76 districts and 18 municipalities across the country.

The Jakarta vote, however, was seen as a key test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.

Preliminary results showed Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, won 43 percent of the vote, while his closest rival Anies Baswedan gained 40 percent.

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, son of former president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was eliminated with only 17 percent.

A candidate needed more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round to win the election outright.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a senior researcher and political analyst at the policy studies institute, the Para Syndicate, said the run-off would likely see renewed and intensified attacks on Ahok being a Christian and of Chinese origin.

Hard-line groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front were accused of politicizing religion ahead of the polls.

They accused the Christian governor of blasphemy by insulting Islam in a campaign speech and used mass demonstrations against him to further their own political agenda, according to analysts.

The accusations have led to Ahok going on trial for blasphemy which carries a prison sentence of up to five years. The trial would not affect the run-off as the Christian governor would almost certainly appeal if found guilty.

"This tendency of using black campaigns is dangerous and can disunite the people of Jakarta," Father Susetyo said.

Election organizers must come down hard on those who would target religious or ethnic sentiments, he said.

Yohanes Handoyo Budhisedjati, chairman of Vox Point Indonesia, a Catholic laity organization, said the blasphemy charge would no longer influence Ahok's supporters, as it did soon after it was first laid.

"Moderate Muslims have returned to [support] Ahok," he told ucanews.com on Feb.16, referring to the first round vote. He also said that fabricated testimonies during hearings in his trial have made people see the case is political.

 

Praise for peaceful elections

Meanwhile, Indonesian religious leaders have praised election organizers and law enforcement agencies for ensuring the gubernatorial and regional elections across the country passed off peacefully.

Indonesian authorities deployed a large number of security forces, especially in conflict-scarred zones such as Aceh, Maluku and Papua, which were seen as possible hotbeds of violence following ethnic and sectarian conflicts in recent years.

National Police Chief Tito Karnavian confirmed on Feb. 16 that the elections were peaceful.

Father Guido Suprapto, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops' Commission for the Laity, said it was "something to be grateful for."

"It showed that society have become more mature [in democracy]," he said.

Gomar Gultom, general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said the "elections proved that strong rivalries between candidates prior to the polls has not diminished people's respect of each other."

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