Despite suspect status, Ahok remains front-runner

Moses Ompusunggu and Callistasia Anggun Wijaya

The Jakarta Post – Jakarta. Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama will likely remain the front-runner in February’s gubernatorial election even after the National Police named him a blasphemy suspect on Wednesday, although pressure will mount for him to maintain or increase his popularity rating, observers say.

Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) analyst Arya Fernandes said Ahok would remain a tough candidate to beat but it could be more arduous for him to attract swing voters due to his suspect status.

“Twenty-five to 30 percent of eligible voters are undecided on which of the three candidates to vote for. With the police naming him a suspect, it won’t be easy for Ahok to attract this group of people,” he said on Wednesday.

The Regional Elections Law does not prohibit criminal suspects from contesting elections.

The police named Ahok a blasphemy suspect after a case screening on Tuesday. Although Ahok has not been detained, a travel ban has been slapped on him.

Recent polls before the announcement revealed that Ahok remained more popular than the other two gubernatorial candidates — former education and cultural minister Anies Baswedan and Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — although his popularity is declining.

Sirajuddin Abbas, program director of Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC), said Ahok’s suspect status would attract more attention and pity.

“As someone from a minority group, Ahok is being treated unfairly by the majority. Those who share this thought may be more convinced to vote for Ahok,” he said.

However, he said it was very likely that the other candidates would use the blasphemy issue to try to lure more Muslim voters. “Such an approach will not succeed in attracting Jakarta voters, who mostly have been critical of this issue.” (yan)