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Throngs vow to vote for Muslim leaders in Jakarta election

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More than 100,000 Indonesians descended on Jakarta’s grand mosque on Saturday to call on people to vote for Muslim candidates running against the city’s incumbent Christain governor in an upcoming election.

It coincides with the final day of campaigning for Wednesday’s vote in the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where ethnic Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is facing two prominent Muslim challengers.

The mass prayer, centered at the Istiqlal Mosque, encouraged people to cast their ballots for Muslim leaders.

Supporters and followers of several Islamic groups, including from the Islamic Defenders Front and the Muslims Forum, joined the mass movement, flashing posters such as “I’d prefer if my leader is a Muslim” and “It is forbidden to pick an infidel leader”.

In his speech, event organiser Muhammad Al Khaththath asked the crowd of men wearing white skullcaps and women in headscarves to vow: “In the name of God the Almighty I swear that I am ready to sacrifice my life and soul to defend Allah, the Prophet, ulemas, the Koran and Islam,” which the crowd repeated after him, one hand in the air.

“I am ready to fight to win a governor that fits the criteria issued by the Ulema Council, which is a faithful Muslim.”

Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, won popularity for his no-nonsense style and determination to clean up Jakarta.

But he has seen a once unassailable poll lead whittled away after being hauled into court for a blasphemy trial that critics view as unfair and politically motivated.

The allegations against him centre on comments he made about a Koranic verse. He accused his opponents of using the verse, which some interpret as meaning Muslims should only support Muslim leaders, to trick people into voting against him.

The protest movement against him, which has been spearheaded by Islamic hardliners, and the court case have sparked concerns about growing religious intolerance in a country long considered a bastion of pluralism.

Undeterred by heavy rain, more than 100,000 people showed up, national police spokesman Rikwanto, who goes by one name, said.

“I am here driven by my faith, because I also felt insulted when Ahok insulted my religion and I am here to defend that,” 25-year old Mochamad Ramzie told AFP.

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