The governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has conceded defeat in a religiously-charged election to lead the Indonesian capital after unofficial vote counts showed a comfortable lead for his opponent Anies Baswedan.
“To our supporters, I know you are sad, but this is the will of God,” Basuki said.
“We still have six months to finish our homework and we will do our best,” he said, referring to his time left in office.
A representative selection of votes surveyed by several pollsters, referred to as quick counts, showed Basuki on 42 per cent and rival Anies commanding 58 per cent.
Anies is backed by conservative Muslims who want Basuki, a Christian of Chinese descent, jailed for a perceived insult to Islam that dogged his campaign.
The apparent margin of Basuki’s loss came as a surprise after polls conducted before the election showed the race to be too close to call.
Basuki won a three-way first-round vote on February 15, securing 43 per cent of the votes compared to Anies’s 40 per cent.
Anies said after the first results came in that he would work to unite the divided electorate.
“We are committed to maintaining unity in Jakarta,” Anies said. “We want to celebrate pluralism and diversity.”
The official tally from the run-off will not be announced until the first week of May, but the so-called quick counts have accurately predicted past elections.
Wednesday’s election was seen by some analysts as a test of secular democracy in the world’s most populous predominantly Muslim country.
“Your vote will determine the direction of Jakarta,” Basuki said after casting his ballot near his residence in North Jakarta.
“Let’s celebrate democracy with joy,” he said.
About 7 million of Jakarta’s 10 million residents were eligible to vote.
Basuki’s bid for a second term was hampered by a blasphemy case triggered by comments he made on the Koran.
Basuki’s remarks that there were people who deceived Muslim voters into believing that the Koran commands them not to vote for Jews and Christians sparked massive street protests by conservatives in November and December.
He was charged with blasphemy and is facing a maximum five-year jail term if found guilty. He remains free and a verdict is expected after the election.
He has apologized for the remarks, and said that he was referring to those who misused religion for political gain.
His campaign has warned that a victory for his Islamist-backed opponent could threaten diversity and pluralism.
“I voted for Ahok because he has proven to be a leader who gets things done and he represents diversity,” said Rudy Pardede after voting at a polling station in central Jakarta.
Security was tight in the capital, with 65,000 police officers deployed to guard against voter intimidation.
Once a clear favourite, Basuki saw his poll numbers falling after the blasphemy accusations, as many conservative Muslims genuinely believe that he insulted Islam.
Conversely, support for the US-educated Anies rose after he met one of the leaders of the anti-Basuki protests, firebrand cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab.
Basuki, the first Christian to lead Jakarta in 50 years, has been perceived as an effective administrator in a bureaucracy long plagued by corruption and incompetence.
He has won praise for cleaning up rivers clogged with rubbish in an effort to reduce flooding, a perennial problem in the city.
His administration has also built more parks and playgrounds.
But he has caused resentment with his decision to evict poor residents from their riverbank homes and relocate some of them to cramped, low-cost apartments, where they have to find rent money despite having been separated from their source of income.
Anies, a respected academic, has capitalized on the discontent, vowing to upgrade existing houses instead of evicting.