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Jakarta governor Ahok loses re-election bid

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From left: Jakarta deputy governor-elect Sandiaga Uno and governor-elect Anies Baswedan at a press conference on Wednesday.

Jakarta

IN most large rambling democracies, politics tend to be local. But in Indonesia and especially Jakarta, it's the reverse: all local politics are national.

In a stinging rebuke to Indonesian president Joko Widodo, his one-time deputy and close political ally lost re-election as governor of Jakarta in a landslide defeat. The loss sets the stage for a tough fight to retain the top job himself when voters go to the polls across the archipelago in 2019.

After a campaign that saw the incumbent hauled to court for allegedly insulting Islam and some of the country's largest rallies, Jakarta Governor Basuki Purnama appears to have lost re-election by as much as 18 percentage points to his challenger, former education minister Anies Baswedan, according to random sampling by polling companies. Official results won't be available for weeks.

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Even so, little more than a decade since Indonesians began to directly cast ballots for their president, the local race underscores the accepted political wisdom here that all roads to the presidential palace must first pass through Jakarta's City Hall.

Dr Anies's massive victory, said his deputy campaign manager, paves the way for a comeback for his own close political backer and one-time Widodo rival, Subianto Prabowo.

"Prabowo has a big chance," Muhammad Taufik told BT at Mr Prabowo's political headquarters in the leafy downtown suburb of Menteng, where supporters for Dr Anies and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, were gathering to watch the results.

The vote draws to a close a heady few months which saw Islamist hardliners rally by the hundreds of thousands to protest Mr Purnama's candidacy after a video surfaced purporting to show the Christian of ethnic-Chinese descent insulting the Quran.

For months, local media was filled with images of Mr Purnama, who is better known here as Ahok, fronting judges answering the allegations.

Still, Mr Taufik rejected claims that the election was a defeat for pluralism in Indonesia and echoed Dr Anies's promise to respect Jakarta's diversity.

"Ahok won about 42 per cent of the vote," Mr Taufik said. "That means Muslims voted for Ahok, too, not just Christians. This is the voice of the people. This is the voice of God."

In fact, the results showed almost no shift in opinion since residents went to the polls in the first round of voting a month ago.

In that poll, Dr Anies and a third candidate, Agus Yudhoyono, the son of the previous president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, took about 60 per cent of the popular vote. All of Mr Yudhoyono's support appears to have broken for Dr Anies.

Some voters supporting Dr Anies said that religion played a role in their decision. "The issue is clear, there is a blasphemer who has been accused, but still allowed to participate in the election," said 43-year-old Heru Haerudin shortly after casting his vote. "His candidacy is wounding the law and democracy."

Speaking at the downtown headquarters of the National Democrats, a party allied with Mr Purnama and his running mate, Djarot Hidayat, Mr Purnama congratulated his opponent and accepted defeat. He called on residents of the sprawling metropolis of 10 million to put the election behind them.

"I congratulate Pak Anies and Pak Sandi. Looking ahead, we want to forget all the things that happened during the campaign. Jakarta is our common home."

Mr Purnama will serve as governor until October. The elections were brought forward as part of an effort to harmonise the country's elections throughout its 400-plus local jurisdictions.

"We still have six months," said Mr Purnama, promising a smooth transition. "We will work quickly and well. Hopefully, the burden to Pak Anies and Pak Sandi will be light."

The result is a reversal of fortune for Mr Purnama, who until late last year was considered a shoo-in for re-election and widely touted as a potential running mate for Mr Joko.

A one-time deputy of Mr Joko, Mr Purnama ascended the governorship when his former boss was elected president in 2014, narrowly beating Mr Prabowo.

While Mr Purnama's future after October is hazy, the loss ratchets up pressure on Mr Joko, who is quickly running out of time to deliver on infrastructure and boost economic growth as he promised.

Emboldened, the Opposition may be tempted to stall stimulus and funding. More galling is the loss of Jakarta itself. The capital is in the throes of construction of much-needed infrastructure, including a mass rapid transit system - the first anywhere in the archipelago.

Mr Joko kicked off construction for the MRT. Now he may need to share the credit as the network takes passengers just weeks before the election in 2019.

"It was really important for Jokowi for Ahok to win," said Phillips Vermonte, a researcher at the Jakarta-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies. "Some of the showcase projects are in Jakarta. He wanted to use it as campaign boost. Now, Prabowo can claim it."

The official results of the election will be available next week.

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