Jakarta. Ethno-religious sentiment appears to have been a factor with swing voters in the Jakarta gubernatorial election on Wednesday (15/02), as the most recent exit poll numbers show candidate pair Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno leading over incumbents Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama and Djarot Syaiful Hidayat, a political analyst said.
Ahok, who is a Christian of Chinese descent, is currently standing trial for blasphemy over comments he made related to a Koranic verse during a speech on Pramuka Island in Jakarta's Thousand Islands district last year.
The Jakarta election, which is widely seen as a proxy battle for the 2019 presidential election, was overshadowed by religious tensions, with major protests by hardline Muslim groups against Ahok.
"Ethno-religious sentiment plays a very important role for Indonesian voters; this confirms that ethno-religious factors are still relevant in Indonesia," said Arizka Warganegara, a political analyst at Lampung University and a doctoral researcher at Britain's University of Leeds.
"[The ethno-religious aspect] is also very attractive for elite politicians [to use as a weapon]," he added.
Although the blasphemy case damaged Ahok's popularity, it seems to have mainly affected older voters, as most of those in the 22-26 age group reportedly voted for the incumbent governor.
"Don't be sad, ethno-religious sentiment is also attractive to voters in India, Malaysia and the latest, in America with Trump. The key to overcoming this is for voters to become more rational and mature," Arizka said.
Around 7.1 million voters are registered in Jakarta, where the race for governor has turned into one of the most divisive political battles during the country's democratic era.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will take place between the two candidates with the most votes.