Jakarta on Alert as Voters Head to Polls to Choose Next Governor

In Indonesia labor friction and politics fan anti Chinese sentiment

Indonesian social media users likened the election outcome to the shock results of the USA presidential vote and the Brexit vote of a year ago.

Controversial but popular, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - commonly referred to as Ahok - portrayed himself as having cleaned up Jakarta from corruption and the many hazards that clog its footpaths and waterways.

But the governor - known by his nickname Ahok - lost a once-unassailable lead after a controversy erupted past year over claims that he had insulted Islam, a grave charge in Indonesia. He became governor when former governor Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) was elected president in 2014; this will be his first attempt at gaining a personal electoral mandate in the capital.

A coalition of hardline Islamic groups said late last week it would deploy at least 100 monitors at each polling station in the Indonesian capital city of 10 million people.

The race was already significant as politicians see the job as a stepping stone to the presidency in 2019 polls, but the stakes were raised dramatically by a controversy sparked by claims that Purnama had insulted the Koran.

Ahok, a Christian of Chinese descent, met fierce opposition as seeks to be selected new Jakarta governor.

The writing was on the wall, but perhaps many choose to ignore it, in hope that their desire for pluralism would trump the rising tide of sectarianism in Jakarta over the previous year.

"It reminds one of the 1998 (riots), before the systemic gang rapes", said the group's coordinator, Ita Fadia Nadia, after filing the report at the Jakarta Metro Police Headquarters yesterday, as quoted by Tribun. Meanwhile, a researcher at Indonesian think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies said a Muslim grandmother who voted for Ahok in the first round (15 February 2017) was denied her Muslim funeral rights after she died of natural causes.

An article at The Jakarta Post cited how the campaign trail was largely tinged with "the use of religion, and to a lesser extent, race", making the election "the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive" in Indonesia.

Some groups plan to mobilize tens of thousands of Muslims on Wednesday to guard more than 13,000 polling stations across Jakarta.

Some voters may have been reluctant to vote for Purnama because of worries about "five more years of protests on the streets by Muslim hardliners", Loveard said in a telephone interview. Prabowo lost the 2014 election to President Widodo. Prosecutors are expected to recommend a sentence at a hearing the day after the election.

Both sides have raised concerns about intimidation and warned against voter fraud. "Cheating is a common enemy to us". "However, we will not hold back if we are cheated". Hardline Islamic cleric Habib Rizieq, who helped organize the anti-Purnama demonstrations during the campaign, last week urged Muslims to travel to Jakarta and be ready to "finish" their opponents. He faces up to four years in prison and possible disqualification if he does win the election. "Those who can come to Jakarta better have the guts to do so and prepare a will for your family", he added, as the crowd roared in response.

The FPI has threatened mass protests if Purnama wins. "If (Purnama) is elected again something extraordinary will happen", she said.

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