Manila Bulletin

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.

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