Jakarta Governor Concedes Defeat in Religiously Tinged Election

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A polling station under a bridge in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday. The candidacy of Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was hobbled by a criminal trial in which he was accused of blasphemy against Islam. Credit Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Christian governor of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, lost a bitterly contested race on Wednesday that was widely seen as a test of religious and ethnic tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Just hours after the polls closed, the governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, conceded defeat to his main challenger, Anies Baswedan, a former minister of education, who had a commanding lead in the voting. Mr. Basuki congratulated Mr. Anies and implored his supporters to “forget all the things that happened during the campaign” — a reference to the religious and racially tinged nature of the election.

Official results by the General Elections Commission of Indonesia will not be released until next week.

It was a crushing defeat for Mr. Basuki. Opinion polls just before the election had suggested that he was in a dead heat with Mr. Anies, who is Muslim.

At one point last year, Mr. Basuki held a double-digit lead in the polls, but his candidacy was hobbled by a criminal trial in which he was accused of blasphemy against Islam. He and his supporters say the court case — prompted by large demonstrations in the capital by hard-line Islamic groups demanding that he be prosecuted, or publicly lynched — was orchestrated by his political opponents to sabotage his campaign.

Analysts said Mr. Basuki could not recover from the damage of Islamic groups using religion as a political weapon, despite a decades-old government regulation banning such tactics.

“It’s a challenge for Indonesia’s democracy,” said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice chairman of the executive board of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a research institute in Jakarta.

“It shows to me that Islamization is deepening in society, especially in urban areas and cities,” he said.

He added that Mr. Basuki’s defeat would embolden hard-line Islamic groups to further pressure the Jakarta and national governments to put in place an ultraconservative agenda, including instituting Islamic law and banning the sale of alcohol.

In conceding defeat, Mr. Basuki noted that he would complete his remaining six months in office, ignoring calls from Islamists to resign.


Anies Baswedan in Jakarta on Wednesday. Mr. Baswedan, a former minister of education, held a commanding lead in the voting. Credit Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

Addressing his supporters, Mr. Anies called the governor a “son of the nation” and promised to resolve the capital’s problems, saying “our journey is still long.”

Mr. Basuki, who is ethnic Chinese, is only the second non-Muslim governor of Jakarta, a city of about 10 million. He was trying to become its first directly elected non-Muslim leader.

Popularly known as Ahok, Mr. Basuki was elevated from deputy governor in 2014 after his predecessor, Joko Widodo, won the country’s presidential election.

Indonesia has more than 190 million Muslims and smaller numbers of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists among its population of 250 million.

Mr. Anies, a former university rector, was an adviser to Mr. Joko during his 2014 presidential campaign, and he was later a cabinet minister. Mr. Anies did not personally direct religious and ethnic attacks against Mr. Basuki, but he met with hard-line Islamic leaders during the campaign and toured mosques.

“I would call it a resounding victory for Anies,” said Kevin Evans, a political analyst in Jakarta.

“What’s more important to me is how this might mobilize the pluralists to get more engaged and push back against this creeping Islamist primordialism,” Mr. Evans added. “If it energizes the center and left to start thinking seriously on these things, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Crucial issues for Jakarta’s voters include public education, health care, transportation, infrastructure development and chronic flooding. But those were overshadowed during the campaign by issues of religion and race in a manner scarcely seen in Indonesia’s democratic era, with anti-Chinese and anti-Christian slurs having been widely spread on social media in recent months.

Some local mosques posted banners saying it was forbidden for Muslims to vote for a non-Muslim candidate.

Mr. Basuki was charged with blasphemy after lightheartedly citing a verse in the Quran last September that warns Muslims against taking Christians and Jews as friends. He said that, given Indonesia’s transition to democracy in the late 1990s, it would be acceptable for Muslims to cast ballots for a Christian.

The governor’s trial resumes on Thursday. Analysts said it was not known how an electoral defeat could affect his defense.

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