JAKARTA, Indonesia - In what is being widely seen as a victory for Indonesia’s conservative Muslims - the Jakarta’s first Christian governor in generations, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama conceded his loss in a re-election bid on Wednesday.
The country’s conservative Muslims have campaigned strongly against the governor and finally managed to oust him, with analysts claiming that Ahok's loss will encourage the use of religion in Indonesian elections as a political tool.
Indonesia houses the world’s most populous Muslim country, with 87 percent or an estimated 263 million people in the country being followers of Islam.
The media in the Indonesian capital called the election one of Indonesia's “dirtiest, most polarizing” campaign.
After the early election results indicated he was trailing his his rival Anies Baswedan, a former Indonesian education and culture minister, Ahok declared, “We should forget the difference. We are all the same.”
While the final results are expected early in May, early counts showed a decisive victory for Baswedan.
In an unofficial tally, Baswedan was seen to have a large margin of victory - 58 percent to 42 percent, even though polls pointing to a far closer race.
In February, Ahok won the first round of voting for governor in a three-way race - receiving 43 percent of the votes against two Muslim opponents.
Baswedan’s supporters had prominently portrayed the race as a referendum on the power of Islam in shaping the politics of Indonesia’s capital.
The opposition held massive rallies with hundreds of thousands of people.
Meanwhile, commenting on the result, Tobias Basuki, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an Indonesian think tank said, “There will not be any drastic changes to Jakarta, Anies will not apply Sharia law, but now this is a steep learning curve for politicians and political parties at seeing how (effective) religious issues are, even when used against an incumbent who was performing very well.”
Earlier in the day, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who is Ahok’s close ally and has voiced his support for the governor on a number of occasions during the campaign, said political differences should not "break our unity."
After casting his vote, the President said, “We are all brothers and sisters. Whoever is elected, we must accept.”
Experts believe that there are chances that Ahok’s loss will have an effect on Widodo’s bid in the 2019 presidential election.
According to Ian Wilson, research fellow at Australia's Murdoch University Asia Research Center, “In the short term, it's a blow to him, but we'll have to see. So much can change so quickly here.”
Ahok had been known for tough anti-corruption drives and challenges to hard-line Muslim groups that have gained a central role in Indonesian politics.
Last year, his comments led to blasphemy charges being leveled against him, and the issue constantly dogged his campaign.
On Thursday, his blasphemy trial will resume and if he is convicted, Ahok faces up to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, on Thursday.