Electoral workers help an elderly woman cast her ballot at a makeshift polling station under a bridge during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017.
Electoral workers help an elderly woman cast her ballot at a makeshift polling station under a bridge during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017.

The mood in Jakarta on its second election day this year is notably more tense than it was in February, although the city's voting stations remained as festive as ever on the surface.

Incumbent governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama faced off with former education minister Anies Baswedan. Neither of them got the 50 percent of votes needed last time to win, although third-place candidate Agus Yudhoyono was eliminated after the first round.

The runoff is the climax of six months of turmoil that started last fall when Ahok, a Chinese-Christian, was accused of blasphemy for citing a Quran verse to argue that Muslims can vote for him without issue. That comment triggered two huge Islamist demonstrations calling for his arrest, and Ahok became the first gubernatorial candidate to simultaneously be on trial at the Supreme Court — for blasphemy.

“My heart is beating so fast,” said Dharma Dhiani, a housing rights activist who lives in Pasar Ikan, a North Jakarta neighborhood that has been threatened with evictions by Ahok, who wants to re-develop the seaside area for tourism. “I hope — we all hope — Anies wins, because we can't take five more years of this.”

Gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan, center, an
Gubernatorial candidate Anies Baswedan, center, and his family show their ink-dipped fingers after giving their votes during the local election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017.

Equally vocal were Ahok voters, who hoped the intense campaign against him wouldn't derail a politician widely regarded as effective, businesslike, and free of corruption.

“For us Ahok is the only choice,” said a young mother in Petamburan, a Central Jakarta neighborhood that is home to Habib Rizieq, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the hardline group that organized the anti-Ahok rallies. She spoke quietly because she didn't want to attract attention in the heavily guarded voting station. “I hope the rest of Jakarta remembers that.”

Dissatisfied with Ahok

There are swathes of the city that would never vote for Ahok because of his unapologetic eviction campaign in the pursuit of economic development.

One such stronghold is the Rumah Susun subsidized housing complex in Jatinegara, East Jakarta. Nearly everyone who lives there was forcibly relocated from the nearby Kampung Pulo in 2015. Many residents work as traders, drivers, and other low-income professions.

“Who did I vote for? Who else?” said Mohamad Nasir, a 75-year-old retired trader. “Anies,” he clarified. Every other member of his extended family — three generations — said the same. Men and women everywhere in Jatinegara, whose two polling stations registered over 1300 voters, flashed the Anies hand-gesture, making a circle with their index finger and thumb.

Chaerul, a taxi driver, said the new apartments to which they were relocated were “intolerable.” “I used to live by the water. We were poor but we had a life. Now our families live in boxes.”

The evictions were one reason why thousands of ordinary Jakartans joined the protests last fall, which were ostensibly held on religious grounds.

“I voted for the Muslim,” said Etin, a garment worker in Luar Batang, a seaside neighborhood targeted for evictions last year.

Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama who
Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama who is seeking his second term in office, files his ballot at a polling station during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017.

A Symbolic Election

Ahok is ethnically Chinese, a minority that has faced decades of prejudice and resentment. A disproportionate number of  the country's wealthy businessmen are of Chinese descent, although that's in part because they were systematically excluded from government positions. In 1998, about 1000 Chinese-Indonesians were murdered in sectarian violence that preceded the fall of Indonesian dictator Suharto. Those tensions have once again risen to the surface this election season.

City officials sent out 60,000 police and military personnel to safeguard against potential disturbances. Police also monitored numerous buses and trucks in Central Java to prevent "mass mobilization," which is to say, another rally or demo. (Thousands of participants in the November and December rallies came from outside Jakarta.)

When voting closed around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Indonesian Police Chief Tito Karnavian reported that there had been no violent incidents.