Jakarta decides: millions turn out to elect governor in religiously charged race

The race to become governor of Indonesia's capital was heading for a second round between the incumbent Christian and a Muslim former education minister after neither appeared to win a majority in an election yesterday.

Nearly 42 million people in seven provinces voted to elect various levels of people's representatives to serve for a period of five years.

It is incumbent Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's first electoral test as head of Jakarta.

Having accusing Ahok of insulting Islam, hard-line Muslim groups, like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), have been organizing massive anti-Ahok protests since last October and now find themselves courted by his rivals. Islamist protests rocked Jakarta during the campaign, attracting hundreds of thousands.

Australian top Muslim leader Shaikh Mohammad Tawhidi's tweet on his support for Ahok alongside a photo of him with the incumbent governor was also popular online. When during the campaign Ahok referred to a Quranic verse regarding non-Muslim leadership of Muslims he was reported for blasphemy, sparking numerous mass demonstrations by hardline Islamic groups that brought Jakarta to a standstill. When his trial opened in late December previous year, he told the court that, "As a person who grew up in Islamic circles, is not possible for me to insult Islam".

In the event that Purnama wins and is convicted of blasphemy, which could see him sentenced to up to five years in prison, he would not automatically be barred from holding office and could avoid jail for a long time by filing successive appeals.

Meanwhile, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono only received about 17% of the votes.

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The official results are not expected for a few weeks but the early tallies, called "quick counts", are generally thought reliable.

Purnama had secured 43.08% of the votes, just ahead of Baswedan on 40.14%, based on a quick sample count of about 95% of the vote by private polling firm SMRC.

Image copyright AFP Image caption In his trademark checked shirt, Mr Purnama voted alongside his family on Wednesday.

Almost 42 million voters were selecting officials for more than 100 positions across Indonesia - seven provincial governors, 18 city governors and 76 district chiefs. Some 16,000 officers were deployed in Jakarta and another 75,000 at other potential points of tension across the country as several other regional elections were also being held.

Basuki, popularly known as Ahok, thanked the voters and said he was prepared for the second round of voting and would face any eventuality. "Ahok did good actually, but I'm voting for someone with the same faith as me".

Australian National University Associate Professor Marcus Mietzner believes there are three main reasons why Anies' electability climbed while Agus' floundered.

The blasphemy trial and the ease with which hard-liners attracted several hundred thousand to protest against Mr Purnama in Jakarta in November and December past year have undermined Indonesia's reputation for practising a moderate form of Islam and shaken the centrist government of President Joko Widodo (also known as "Jokowi"). "Let's maintain our unity".

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