Southeast Asia | Jakarta governor race headed for volatile second round

Jakarta governor race headed for volatile second round

Clouded by allegations of blasphemy, phone tapping and even murder, the gubernatorial race will be decided after another round of voting on April 19

Jakarta, February 15, 2017 7:17 PM (UTC+8)
An Indonesian woman casts her vote at a polling station on February 15, 2017.
About 100 local elections took place across Indonesia on February 15 but the race in the capital is the most hotly contested, with the top job in Jakarta seen as a stepping stone to victory in the 2019 presidential polls. Photo: AFP / Chaideer Mahyuddin
An Indonesian woman casts her vote at a polling station on February 15, 2017. About 100 local elections took place across Indonesia on February 15 but the race in the capital is the most hotly contested, with the top job in Jakarta seen as a stepping stone to victory in the 2019 presidential polls. Photo: AFP / Chaideer Mahyuddin

Jakarta’s gubernatorial race is going to a second round nail-biter after ethnic-Chinese Christian governor Basuki Purnama narrowly edged former education minister Anies Baswaden in a February 15 election clouded by allegations of blasphemy, phone tapping and even murder.

Quick count results, with nearly all the ballots counted, showed Purnama winning 43% of the vote, ahead of Baswaden who notched 39% and third-placed Agus Haritmurti Yudhoyono trailing with 17% after he faded badly in the final stretch. A candidate needed to receive 50% of the vote to win the race outright. The next round of voting is set for April 19.

An academic and educator, Baswaden made significant gains from Yudhoyono, son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during the final two weeks, showing conservative Muslim voters had already begun to consolidate around a single candidate.

That is not good news for Purnama going into the deciding second round. Analysts said he needed up to a 10% buffer, but predictions are premature at this stage over just how much the governor’s ongoing blasphemy trial – and the possible verdict — will weigh on the final outcome.

Polls taken before the second round of the 2012 gubernatorial election, in which current President Joko Widodo and running mate Purnama won easily over an incumbent who resorted to blatant primordial tactics were some way off the mark. But Widodo is a Muslim and the circumstances are vastly different in 2017.

Far more accurate and favorable to the Widodo-Purnama ticket then was a different algorithm-type poll taken on social media which allowed tech-savvy middle class voters a bigger influence than they have in conventional surveys that are routinely conducted in the capital’s high-density housing areas.

Religion may have been a major factor in the hardline Islamic enclaves of Tebet, Mampang and Pancoran, but not so in other residential areas of the capital like southern Cilandak where, as one veiled Muslim housewife put it: “Better the governor we know than the one we don’t. At last we know what he’s done.”

A few doors away from her polling station was the home of Yenny Wahid, daughter of ex-president Abdurrahman Wahid, the great pluralist whose death seven years ago has left secularist forces without an obvious leader as Islam and populism come together in a potent new mix.

Purnama has only himself to blame for some of his troubles. After recovering strongly from the initial blasphemy charge, which drew huge crowds of protestors in November and December, he lost ground again recently with an ill-advised attack on Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Ma’ruf Amin.

Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaks to his supporters and the media after voting in local elections in Jakarta on February 15, 2017.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 after a tight first round on February 15. / AFP PHOTO / BAY ISMOYO
Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaks to his supporters and the media after voting in local elections in Jakarta on February 15, 2017. 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: AFP/ Bay Ismoyo 

Purnama’s off-the-cuff remarks have gotten him into trouble before, but this time he was upset at evidence suggesting that Yudhoyono and Amin, a cleric with a long history of draconian edicts, had been conspiring over the blasphemy case, which stems from the content of a campaign speech the governor made last October.

The damage he did with that latest outburst was reflected in the 300,000 people who flocked to Jakarta’s Istiqial Mosque for February 10 Friday prayers, where clerics defied police instructions and told them not to vote for a non-Muslim candidate.

Many attendees were non-voters from outside Jakarta, but it had been assumed a succession of lawsuits dumped on radical Islamic Defenders Front (MUI) leader Rizieq Shihab would have had an impact. Clearly it didn’t, although Yudhoyono’s alleged plotting has not helped either himself or his son’s campaign.

With the stakes so much higher, a lot can still happen in the next two months, including the threat of racial or religious violence. Purnama can win back votes by staying well away from religion, something Baswaden is not doing to the disappointment of those who previously saw him as a sectarian reformer.

Indonesian Muslims take part in a rally in Jakarta on February 11, 2017, ahead of next week's Jakarta governor election.Thousands of Islamic hardliners are expected to congregate at a major Jakarta mosque on February 11 for a group prayer. But authorities fear a repeat of the huge demonstrations of conservative Muslims seen last year against governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is on trial for allegedly insulting Islam over comments he made on the campaign trail. / AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO
Indonesian Muslims take part in a rally in Jakarta on February 11, 2017, ahead of Jakarta’s governor election. Thousands of Islamic hardliners congregated at a major Jakarta mosque on February 11 for a group prayer in a follow on huge demonstrations last year against incumbent governor Basuki Purnama, who is on trial for allegedly insulting Islam in comments he made on the campaign trail. Photo: AFP / Bay Ismoyo

Plucked from a career in the military, Agus Yudhoyono, 38, had followed his father’s strategy of pandering to the conservative Muslim lobby. But when Baswaden changed tack and started eating into that constituency, Agus’ inexperience showed — particularly during the television debates.

Australian National University (ANU) political analyst Marcus Mietzner, who has closely followed the campaign on the ground, says Agus is much better on the stump and that Yudhoyono Senior erred in not seeing his son’s attraction to the younger voting block.

The former president hasn’t helped his own image as a distinguished elder statesman either by getting into an embarrassing pickle over his assumption that a reference during Purnama’s trial to a conversation he had with Amin showed his phone was being tapped.

Demanding an investigation and a meeting with Widodo, he even likened the case to Watergate and former US president Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Defense lawyers produced no transcript and no tape, suggesting it was either a bluff or their information had come from a tip off.

Since then, Yudhoyono has also got himself into a potentially more damaging fight with former Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) head Azahari Azar, who claims he was framed on a murder-for-hire charge in 2010, only two months after he prosecuted Yudhoyono’s father-in-law for corruption.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia in this February 10, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Widodo last month granted Azar clemency and commuted the remainder of his 18-year sentence; one of the ex-prisoner’s first acts was to pointedly take a front row seat at the second of three televised debates among the gubernatorial candidates.

As chairman of the Democrat Party, Yudhoyono’s last-minute decision to recruit Agus for the gubernatorial race demonstrated a lack of confidence in his younger son, Edhie Baskoro, 36, the party’s parliamentary leader who previously served for five years as Democrat secretary-general.

Edhie was fortunate to escape being caught up in the $200 million Hambalang sports complex scandal in 2013,  which led to then-party chairman Anas Urbaningrum, sports minister Andi Mallarangeng and two other party officials being jailed for corruption.

Although Edhie was re-elected by a landslide in his father’s hometown constituency of Pacitan on the southeast coast of Java in the 2014 legislative elections, analysts say Hambalang appears to have put a permanent blight on his career – and on his father’s ambition of creating a political dynasty.

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