Pacific News Minute: Jakarta Election Stirs Ethnic, Religious Differences

Apr 18, 2017

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama
Credit Simple Wikipedia

Security will be tight as voters in Jakarta head to the polls tomorrow in an election seen as a test of Indonesia’s longstanding secular tradition. And, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, one candidate faces a blasphemy trial as soon as the election’s over.

Last September, the governor of Jakarta cited a verse of the Koran before an audience of fishermen - despite its warning not to take Jews and Christians as Allies, he joked that it was perfectly all right for Muslim voters to choose a Christian come Election Day.

Hardline Islamists demanded charges against Basuki Tja-haja Purnama and staged three huge rallies in Jakarta late last year. Under pressure, police agreed to the proceedings, but postponed the trial until after tomorrow’s election.

Basuki, universally known by his nickname Ahok, is a double minority; not just Christian but ethnic Chinese. He inherited the Governor’s post when his ally, Joko Widodo, used it as a springboard for his presidential election. Before the blasphemy charge, Ahok was known for his direct, sometimes gruff all-business manner and an aggressive anti-corruption campaign. His approval rate rose as high as 70 percent. In February, he finished first in a field of three candidates with 43 percent of the vote. But because he did not win an outright majority, he faces a runoff tomorrow against a little known former education minister, Anies Baswedan.

The two candidates have debated low income housing, chronic flooding and public transportation, but analysts say there’s no doubt that the real issues are ethnicity and religion. And that Indonesia faces a test of its reputation for tolerance. Opinion polls say it’s neck and neck.