Tolerance test as Muslim Indonesia's capital votes
JAKARTA (AFP) – Jakarta's Christian governor who is standing trial for blasphemy fought to cling on to his job Wednesday in a highstakes election seen as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama faces two prominent Muslim challengers in the race to lead the teeming capital of 10 million, as local elections take place around the country.
But the stakes in the Jakarta vote have been raised by allegations that Purnama -- the city's first nonMuslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader -- insulted the Koran.
The claims drew hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims onto the streets of Jakarta in major protests last year, and Purnama has been put on trial in a case criticized as unfair and politically motivated.
He has not been barred from running but his lead in opinion polls was dented for a period, and the vote is now seen as a test of whether pluralism and a tolerant brand of Islam in the world's most populous Muslimmajority country are being eroded.
President Joko Widodo, whose party supports Purnama, appealed for unity after a dirty election campaign that has been dominated by religious and ethnic tensions and a flood of ''fake news'' stories.
''Don't let our different political choices divide us -- let's maintain our unity,'' he said after voting.
Casting his ballot, Purnama, who has won popularity among the middle-class with his determination to clean up the capital, hinted at the importance of the election: ''Your vote decides the future of Jakarta.''
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0000 GMT) for Jakarta's 7.1 million registered voters and were due to close at 1:00 pm (0600 GMT).
An early vote tally released in the afternoon should give an indication of how the candidates have performed although official results will not be announced until mid-March.
None of the three candidates, who also include a former education minister and the scion of a political dynasty, are likely to win outright in the first round, meaning the race will likely go to a run-off in April.