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Jakarta votes for new governor as incumbent 'Ahok' faces blasphemy trial

Unofficial polls indicate the election for a new governor in Jakarta will go to a second round. A blasphemy trial facing incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or 'Ahok' has overshadowed the campaign.

Voters in the Indonesian capital territory of Jakarta went to the polls on Wednesday to elect their new governor. The campaign has been marred by religious tensions and a blasphemy trial for incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama rather than focusing on the many problems plaguing the city.

"Don't let our different political choices divide us - let's maintain our unity," said President Joko Widodo, himself a former governor of Jakarta, after casting his ballot. His party has thrown its support behind Purnama, better known as Ahok, his former deputy in the capital.

Ahok, a Christian, is Jakarta's first non-Muslim governor in fifty years and its only ethnic Chinese leader to date. Last September he accused rivals of using verses from the Koran to turn people against him. Specifically, he cited a passage that could be interpreted as suggesting that Muslims should only support Muslim leaders. He was charged with insulting the Koran and is currently on trial for blasphemy, a move he has decried as politically motivated.

Mass protests

The resulting outcry from hardline Islamists brought hundreds of thousands of protesters on to Jakarta's streets and turned the governor's race from a contest over political ideology into a test of secularism in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

As a result, police were out in droves in the city of 10 million inhabitants on Wednesday. Some 16,000 officers were deployed in Jakarta and another 75,000 at other potential points of tension across the country as several other regional elections were also being held.

Indonesien Blasphemie Prozess Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Syuflana)

Being on trial did not bar Ahok from running for a second term

Ahok is running against two Muslim candidates, former Education Minister Anies Baswedan and Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Although Ahok is ahead in the polls, analysts believe he is unlikely to achieve the 50 percent or more share of the vote he needs to win in the first round. As a result, the vote is likely to go to a run-off in April.

Based on a sample of around 40 percent of the vote by private polling company SMRC on Wednesday, Ahok had secured 42.57 of the vote with Baswedan on 40.23 per cent. Yudhoyono was trailing with 17 percent.

Preliminary results are expected later on Wednesday with a final, official tally at the end of February.

es/jm (AFP, Reuters)