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September 20, 2017

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Christian governor looks to be heading for loss in Jakarta runoff

JAKARTA -- Jakarta's Christian governor Wednesday looked set to lose to a Muslim former government minister in a divisive runoff election that has stoked religious tension in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Anies Baswedan was on 56-57 percent in the race to lead Jakarta compared to 41-43 percent for incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is fighting for his job as he stands trial for blasphemy, according to a sample of votes counted by several private pollsters.

The vote is seen as a test of whether the moderate Islam traditionally practiced in the world's most populous Muslim country is under threat from hard-liners, who have led mass demonstrations against Purnama.

Purnama, the city's first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, won the first round in February but not by a big enough margin to avoid a runoff.

The race was already significant as politicians see the job as a stepping stone to the presidency in 2019 polls, but the stakes were raised dramatically by a controversy sparked by claims that Purnama had insulted the Koran.

The allegations drew hundreds of thousands of conservative Muslims onto the streets of Jakarta in major protests last year, and led to Purnama — known by his nickname Ahok — being put on trial for blasphemy in a case critics see as politically motivated.

Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote indicated that the race was neck and neck but in the event, Baswedan appeared on course for a strong victory.

The former education minister, who was accused of cozying up to hardliners to win votes from disaffected Muslims during the election campaign, thanked Jakarta's voters for supporting him.

The 47-year-old also hinted that he would move to heal the divisions in the capital, if his victory is confirmed: "We celebrate diversity ... We are all ready to work together again."

Over 7.2 million people were registered to vote in the polls, which closed at 1 p.m. (0600 GMT).

Tolerance Test

Official results will not be released until early May but the private pollsters are usually accurate.

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