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Politics

Voters go to polls in pivotal Jakarta election

Fierce gubernatorial campaign seen as prelude to 2019 presidential race

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the incumbent Jakarta governor, casts his vote along with his wife and son near his residence in North Jakarta on Wednesday. (photo by Wataru Suzuki)

JAKARTA -- Voting is underway in Jakarta's gubernatorial election, capping a bitterly contested race between three candidates. 

The election is seen as a bellwether for the 2019 presidential campaign.

In a neighborhood of North Jakarta on Wednesday morning, residents quietly lined up to deposit their ballots into metal boxes. All told, there are roughly 7 million eligible voters in Indonesia's most populous and economically developed city.

Dozens of local pollsters are expected to start releasing "quick count" projections shortly after voting closes at 1 p.m., local time. The election commission, however, will not announce the official results until sometime in March. 

While each candidate has called on supporters to monitor fraudulent voting, no suspicious activity has been reported so far.

Incumbent Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, is attempting to fend off two rivals: Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Anies Baswedan, a former minister of education and culture.

If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff between the top two would be held in early April. Recent opinion polls have put Purnama in the lead, but below the threshold for a majority.

The race took a dramatic turn last fall, after Purnama's reference to a verse in the Quran sparked a string of large demonstrations and prompted police to charge him with blasphemy. Most analysts see the controversy as politically motivated, though some have dubbed the election a test of religious and racial tolerance in Indonesia -- home to the world's largest Muslim population. 

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