Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Tensions are rising in Jakarta, Java, as the date (20 September) of the runoff in the capital's gubernatorial election approaches. The race is very close and everything is good, even personal attacks, against other candidates. However, there is a risk that it might become an ethnic and social confrontation. Billboards, messages and video footage are being used to denigrate candidates running against the incumbent governor, especially against a non-Muslim Chinese-Indonesian who is running for the post of deputy governor. Imams and other religious leaders have also stepped into the ring, telling their co-religionists not to trust people who are not close to Islam.
Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi) and his running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (aka Ahok) are going against outgoing Jakarta Governor Fauzi "Foke" Bowo. In the first round of voting, the challengers harnessed 42.6 per cent of the vote, whilst Bowo got only 34.05 per cent. The runoff is now an open match and the incumbent is not certain of re-election.
The campaign took on an incendiary note when attacks began aimed at Basuki, an ethnic Chinese from Solo (central Java) who also happens to be Christian.
The ongoing attempts to discredit him could however heighten tensions between religious groups and ignite sectarian violence in a campaign that is increasingly taking on a national dimension.
Jakarta has a history of majority Muslims attacking minority Chinese, both Christian and Buddhist. In May 1998, when Dictator Suharto still ruled the country, thousands of people were victims of vicious and unprecedented violent attacks that have regularly flared up ever since, evidence of the fragile social fabric of the world's most populous Muslim country.
More and more voices can be heard, appealing to the population to vote for candidates that are ethnic Betawi, i.e. native Jakartans, and Muslim, like Governor Bowo, a moderate in the city's politics.
Personal attacks against Basuki have come various quarters, including a musician. Similarly, during his sermon in a mosque, a religious leader urged Muslims not to vote for the Jokowi-Ahok ticket.
In a not so subtle message, a number of videos have been posted on the Internet, showing the sectarian violence that rocked Jakarta in 1998, reminding voters that this might happen again if an ethnic Chinese is elected.
For his part, Jokowi has been attacked as an anti-Islamic, pro-Zionist activist.