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Jokowi pick loses momentum as Jakarta vote goes to second round

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Unofficial "quick count" tallies showed the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is backed by President Joko Widodo, leading with around 43 per cent of the vote.

[JAKARTA] Jakarta residents face another two months of campaigning as the race to lead Indonesia's capital was headed for a run-off election that will divide the city's power-brokers along similar lines to the last presidential election.

Unofficial "quick count" tallies showed the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is backed by President Joko Widodo, leading with around 43 per cent of the vote.

Close behind with about 40 per cent was former education minister Anies Baswedan, who has the support of Widodo's 2014 opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto. The two would face off again in April should the quick count tally hold in official results expected by Feb 27.

The bid to lead Jakarta, a city of more than 10 million people with an annual budget of US$5.2 billion, was marked by a blasphemy case against Mr Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian known as Ahok who assumed the governorship when his running mate Mr Joko won the presidency.

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Though race and religion will likely again play a central roll in the run-off campaign, with Ahok's opponents exploiting religion to torpedo his candidacy, the key will be which of the candidates can carry the votes of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who appeared headed for a last-place finish with around 17 per cent of the vote.

"Ahok's path to retaining the governorship now looks like an uphill one," said Hugo Brennan, an Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft who was in Jakarta for the election.

"Much will depend on where Agus supporters rally to, but the Anies camp looks like a more natural fit."

Indonesia's US dollar-denominated bonds fell, with the 10-year yield rising by the most in three weeks.

Front-Runner

Ahok looked like the clear front-runner when the campaign kicked off in October before he was accused of insulting Islam by criticising those who said the Koran stated Muslims shouldn't be led by a non-Muslim.

Large anti-Ahok protests led by conservative Islamic groups and an ongoing blasphemy trial cut into the governor's lead and turned the election into a broader power struggle between conservative and moderate forces in the world's largest Muslim majority nation and third-largest democracy.

In January, Mr Baswedan was criticised for trying to exploit the blasphemy issue after he gave a speech to the Islamic Defenders Front, a hard-line group that has been vocal in its opposition to Ahok. If Ahok eventually wins and is later found guilty of blasphemy, he would be immediately dismissed as governor.

After casting his vote, Mr Joko called on people to respect the choices others make.

"Let us not allow political differences to destroy our unity," he said.

"I hope that all can be united again as brothers for the sake of the country's unity after the elections."

Speaking to reporters as he voted Wednesday morning in South Jakarta, Mr Baswedan said he was praying for a positive result. Ahok urged people to exercise their right to vote "because the choice you make will surely determine the future of Jakarta." There were no reports of violence or unrest at polling stations across the city.

'Some Encouragement'

If Mr Baswedan defeats Ahok, it could be a boon to Mr Prabowo, the former son-in-law of dictator Suharto, who has hinted that he'd like another crack at the presidency in 2019, and could act as a thorn in Mr Joko's side by taking control of major infrastructure projects.

"This might end up being through Anies a source of some encouragement for Prabowo but it's hardly a knockout blow for Jokowi," said Greg Barton, a professor of global politics and Indonesia specialist at Deakin University in Australia.

And while Mr Baswedan appeared better positioned at this point, it was too early to count out Ahok, given his strong finish after having been severely weakened, Mr Barton said.

"You can't take anything for granted having seen how the last two months have gone," he said.

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