Sectarianism looms as Anies wins Jakarta poll in quick counts

Muslim candidate seems assured of victory over Christian rival as radical and anti-Chinese groups combine
Sectarianism looms as Anies wins Jakarta poll in quick counts

Jakarta governor-elect Anis Baswedan, right, and his deputy governor-elect Sandiaga Una hold hands during a press conference in Jakarta on April 19. Jakarta's Christian governor on April 19 looked set to lose to a Muslim former government minister in a divisive run-off election that has stoked religious tension in Muslim-majority Indonesia. (Photo by Adek Berry/AFP) reporters, Jakarta
April 19, 2017
Religion has moved to the centre on Indonesian politics with Anies Baswedan, a Muslim backed by radical groups, taking a commanding lead over rival and incumbent Christian Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or "Ahok," for the governor's job in Jakarta.

Christian voters expressed fears that the victory could spell a more uncertain future for them in the world's largest Muslim country that has, until now, projected a will for religious plurality.

Retno Setyawati, a 53-year-old Catholic, who voted Ahok said that it is a disappointment because he has made Jakarta better during his leadership.

"What can I do? I must accept the election results," said Setyawati, adding that she doubts if Anies could materialize his promises for a better Jakarta.

"I am afraid he would pay more attention to his supporters and that radicalism will grow in Jakarta," she said. 

Based on a so-called "quick" count of about 5 percent of the cities 13,000 polling booths, Anies commanded 57 percent of the votes ahead of Ahok's 43 percent.  The official count by the Jakarta election commission will be announced two weeks from now.

Opinion pollsters once again failed, having determined the race was too close to call ahead of the election.

Supporters at Anies' campaign headquarters in central Jakarta's Menteng district, whose ebullient and cheering speakers talked up Muslim issues — and denigrated Ahok's Chinese heritage.

"Now we won the election and we have defeated the Chinese governor who for a long time has been in power and has not treated us as Muslims, now we have more chance to implement what we want," former army officer Mohammad Saleh, head of a self-styled paramilitary group told supporters.

"This includes how to prioritize Indonesian people over foreigners including Chinese. For a longtime they have dominated us, let us try also to win in the presidential election in 2019," he said.

Observers said the victory was the fruit Anies' political machine and its capability to move religious and anti-Chinese sentiments to the centre of a campaign The Jakarta Post describes as the dirtiest in the city's history.


'Maximizing mosque networks'

Radical group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) held a series of sectarian rallies in the month leading up to the election, drawing in at times hundreds of thousands of people which on occasion descended into looting after dark.

Yohanes Handoyo Budhisedjati, a political analyst and founder of Vox Point Indonesia, a Catholic political organization, admitted that political parties and religious groups behind Anies have succeeded in maximizing mosque networks as the base to get Muslims support.

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"Their strength lies in their capability to mobilize people in the mosques around Jakarta," Budhisedjati told

He said that the victory has also worried religious minority groups due to Anies' close ties with radical groups, such as FPI, that often commit violence and acts of intolerance.

"I can understand if religious minorities are worried and afraid after his victory," Budhisedjati said.

"But we hope that he will set aside all religious issues during campaign period and embrace all elements of society," he said.

Meydie Early, a 27-year-old Protestant, was also disappointed after Ahok was defeated but welcomed Anies' victory.

"Baswedan is also good, so let him work," she said.

Kevin Reiner Hidayat, 22-year-old Catholic from the Sacred Heart Parish in Central Jakarta said he voted for Ahok because he was worried that extremists would gain power. 

He said that being Chinese descent, he is now worried that with Anies' victory the radicals will gain momentum and grow.

"We cannot imagine what will happen to us, as radicals who support him have also made anti-Chinese statements," said Hidayat.

On the other hand, Eko Suwarno, a Catholic business man, who voted for Ahok said that it does not matter that Anies wins.

"We will support him and we hope he continues what Ahok has done," he said.

Ahok's blasphemy trial continues the day after the poll on April 20 to hear a sentence demand from prosecutors. He will however remain governor until October when Anies will be sworn in or until a verdict is given.

Meanwhile, Anies, a former education minister, said during in a press conference announcing his victory that he is committed to promoting unity in Jakarta.

"Let's forget the tensions during campaigns and look forward to building unity and peace in Jakarta," said Anies.

The poll also sets the stage for Anies' key backer former General Prabowo Subianto, who lost the last presidential election to former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, to mount a fresh challenge in the next month in two years' time.

After the extent of Anies' lead became clear supporters were chanting: "governor, president."

In his concession speech, Ahok appealed to supporters saying: "Let's forget all of the problems faced during the campaign because Jakarta is home for us all.

"We will work fast, work hard to fulfill our promises and hopefully Mr Anies and Mr Sandi (his running mate) can continue our work.

"To our supporters we understand you're disappointed but it's OK because God has decided. I also lost during the gubernatorial election in 2007 and I told my supporters then 'please be patient, this is God's plan' and what do you know? In 2024 I became Jakarta governor, so you never know."

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