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Ahok Concedes Defeat to Muslim Rival in Jakarta Governor Election

After a divisive election campaign rocked with protests and a blasphemy trial, Jakarta’s “quick count” election results show Christian governor Ahok trailing behind Muslim candidate Anies Baswedan.
Incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama casts his vote in the Jakarta governor election in North Jakarta, Indonesia April 19, 2017. Reuters/Darren Whiteside

After a divisive election campaign rocked with protests and a blasphemy trial, Jakarta's "quick count" election results show Christian governor Ahok trailing behind Muslim candidate Anies Baswedan.

Ahok, or Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, conceded to Baswedan, whose votes exceeded his by a surprisingly large margin according to Indikator Politik's unofficial quick count. The present Jakarta governor only got 42 percent of the votes while Baswedan got 58 percent, Reuters reported.

A few days prior to the election, Ahok led the polls, albeit by a small margin, and experts said the poll results were too close to call.

"We now will come together and forget this campaign. Jakarta is home for all of us," Ahok said in a statement. He urged his supporters to not dwell on the election results.

"We understand that our supporters are disappointed. But don't dwell on it," he said.

The Jakarta election is being viewed as a test of religious tolerance in Muslim majority Indonesia. 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.

Ahok belongs not only to the religious minority group of Christians; he is also an ethnic Chinese, another minority group in the country.

Last year, Ahok was seen as the strongest contender for the gubernatorial election in the country's capital. The outspoken and firm governor earned the support of many Jakartans, particularly the middle class, for his determination to clean up the city and find a solution to the old problem of flooding.

However, Muslim hardliners, led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), began to campaign against him, telling voters it is unlawful to vote for an "infidel" or a non-Muslim.

In one of his speeches, Ahok addressed this issue and said voters are free to choose a candidate according to their conscience. He also quoted a verse from Islam's holy book.

His speech was caught on video and was edited to make it look like he was blaspheming the Quran. The video quickly spread on social media, a platform Ahok's rivals used heavily to their advantage.

A series of massive protests, the largest being attended by more than 200,000 Muslims, were staged to call for Ahok's arrest for the alleged blasphemy.

Although the police refused to arrest the governor, they filed a blasphemy case against him for which he now stands trial. If convicted, Ahok can face up to five years in prison.

The practice of Christianity and other religions is legal in Indonesia. Now, Ahok's loss at the Jakarta gubernatorial election leaves many wondering how the "politics of religion" will affect the country's future.

Keith Loveard, an analyst at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting, said it will be "a potent force."

He said some voters could have been reluctant to vote for Ahok simply because they feared "five more years of protests on the streets by Muslim hardliners," Reuters reported.

The official results of the election will be announced in May, and Baswedan will take office as the new governor of Jakarta in October.

At a news conference, Baswedan implied he would help bring about unity among Jakartans.

"We celebrate diversity... We are all ready to work together again," he said.

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