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Religion politicised as tense Jakarta election goes down to the wire

Sydney Morning Herald - April 18, 2017

Jewel Topsfield, Jakarta Vote for the Muslim candidate in the Jakarta gubernatorial election on Wednesday, according to the meme shared endlessly on Facebook, and you are guaranteed entry to heaven.

It's a spoof typical of Indonesians' humour and irreverence on social media but it demonstrates the extent to which religion has become politicised in the fiercest and most heavily guarded election in the capital's history.

The Christian and ethnically Chinese incumbent Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who is simultaneously on trial for allegedly insulting Islam, will face off against his Muslim rival Anies Baswedan, a former education and culture minister.

The heaven meme satirises some of the ugly sectarianism that has marred the election campaign. Banners have been erected throughout the capital urging voters not to elect a kafir (unbeliever) and even threatening to deny burial rites to those who vote for Ahok.

The election is too close to call, with polls pointing to a dead heat. Four out of five polls show Anies ahead by a whisker, although the margin was as slim as 0.8 per cent in the respected Indikator Politik Indonesia.

Some 62,000 police, military and civil officers will be deployed on election day and Jakarta police have banned the mass mobilisation of people from outside the capital amid fears of instability regardless of the election outcome.

This is in response to an app since removed from the Google Play store which called on people who live outside Jakarta to "guard" polling booths to "defend Islam action". At least 100,000 people reportedly registered with the Tamasya al-Maidah app. On Tuesday armed police conducted "sweeping" raids on buses at Jakarta's borders to stop them entering the capital.

Both Anies and Ahok's tickets have wooed the conservative and moderate Muslim vote ahead of the second round of elections. In particular, they are fighting for the 17 per cent of the vote previously won by Agus Yudhoyono, who was knocked out in the first round

"The contest over policies and programs has been overshadowed by the clamour of promises wrapped in religious sentiment," laments the editorial in Tempo magazine on election eve. "Whoever wins will realise that religion issues took them to the top."

Anies a Muslim intellectual who once cultivated a reputation as a pluralist has not personally engaged in crude attacks on Ahok, according to Australian National University (ANU) Professor Edward Aspinall.

"He has instead run a dog-whistle campaign signalling his Muslim credentials and reaching out to extremist groups like the Islamic Defenders Front."

This is an allegation Anies' running mate, multimillionaire Sandiaga Uno, strongly rejects. On the day of Anies' now infamous visit to the Islamic Defenders Front's HQ, Sandiaga said he had met with church pastors, something not reported in the media.

"Of course we have to have open dialogues with the very far right and very far left," Sandiaga said. "For me it is not about race or religion, for me it is about providing good jobs, quality education."

Sandiaga decried the "hoax", circulated via the Whatsapp messaging app, that he and Anies would implement sharia law in Jakarta if elected. "Such a bad job of hoax and fake news they cannot even forge my signature correctly."

However Sandiaga openly campaigned on the need for Jakarta to attract sharia funds and proposed "sharia-compliant" night entertainment, such as alcohol-free concerts.

Ahok's campaign team rejigged its campaign strategy after an analysis of the first election showed the ticket had not connected with Muslim voters despite programs such as building mosques and sending mosque caretakers to Mecca.

Campaign team official Tubagus Hasan Syadzili said it had not been widely communicated in the first round that Ahok's running mate, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, was a devout Muslim.

This time the team talked up Djarot's Muslim identity. It was pointed out he had made the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca). He was photographed wearing the traditional peci hat for the second round ballot papers and attended Koran reading sessions at mosques.

"Visiting mosques is an effort to explain to Muslim voters that electing Jakarta leaders is not about electing religious leaders so there should not have been any theological barrier for them to exercise their right as citizens," Tubagus told Fairfax Media.

Islamic parties United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) have now endorsed Ahok.

"Ahok is indeed now within striking distance," says ANU Associate Professor Marcus Mietzner, who says this is partly a result of the support of PPP and PKB.

"Good debate performances, while Anies boycotted one and appeared excessively aggressive in another, also helped Ahok. But it is important to remember that Anies remains the favourite."

The youth arm of Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, has up to 10,000 members on standby to provide security in Jakarta on election day if police request assistance.

"We don't want voters not to be able to vote because they are intimidated by people quoting a Koran verse," said GP Ansor secretary Dendy Zuhairil Finsa. "We appeal to Jakarta voters, that they should vote with their conscience, without pressure from anyone."

-- with Karuni Rompies and Amilia Rosa

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/religion-politicised-as-tense-jakarta-election-goes-down-to-the-wire-20170418-gvn2in.html.

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