Residents of West Java say they want their next governor to tackle rising intolerance and religious violence in the province, rated worst in Indonesia in that regard.
The province is awaiting official results of its February 24th gubernatorial election, to be announced March 3rd by the General Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum/KPU).
Quick count results conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) suggest that incumbent Ahmad Heryawan has won a second five-year term, taking more than 30% of the vote and avoiding a second round. Aher, as he is known, represents the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
Just days before the vote, Aher signed a deal with hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in which he agreed to implement a ban of the Ahmadiyah sect and generally "maintain an Islamic environment" if re-elected, BeritaSatu reported.
As governor, he is obliged to meet with any citizen group, he told the news outlet, denying further reports that he agreed to issue Sharia-based laws.
A crucial concern
Sukardi Ahmad, a 45-year-old resident of Bogor, West Java, has concerns about religious violence in the region. "Whoever wins the race will have to improve tolerance in West Java," he told Khabar Southeast Asia on voting day, the 24th.
"Last year and this year have been hard times for us as," he said. "February last year, we had 50 people vandalize the Nur Hidayah Mosque in Cianjur initially used by Shia members, followed by the church attacks with 20 gunshots in Indramayu a month later."
Sukardi also mentioned the 2012 Tasikmalaya attacks in which hundreds of FPI members attacked the Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman, a Ahmadiyah mosque, injuring nine people.
"I also witnessed an incident in Bandung last October where FPI damaged the An-Nasir Mosque and also prohibited Ahmadis from celebrating Idul Adha," he continued.
Moreover, since 2008, members of Bogor's GKI Yasmin congregation have held services outside and in private homes, because Mayor Diani Budiarto revoked their church's permit. It has not been restored, despite a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the congregation.
"We are expecting a new governor who is honest and responsible. Corruption in one priority and religious violence is another high priority," University of Indonesia Political Science graduate student Restu Wahyuni told Khabar.
"A newly elected West Java governor should have a real agenda of how to solve religious violence, as it is becoming crucial," she said. "Look how many incidents of terrorism are now linked to West Java."
Running mate helped Aher
Analysts say Aher was helped by his choice of a running mate, well-known actor and director Deddy Mizwar. He appears to have been unscathed, meanwhile, by the late January arrest of his party's president, Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, on bribery charges.
For a time, Deputy Governor Dede Yusuf appeared to be the race's front runner, but was likely tripped up by a separate corruption scandal that hit the chairman of his camp, the Democratic Party.
The quick count results put him third in the race, behind the pair representing the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (DPI-P), Rieke Diah Pitaloka and Teten Marzuki.
Candidate representatives stressed they were waiting for official results to determine the winner and the possibility of a second round.
The gubernatorial election in Indonesia's most populous province is being closely watched as a harbinger of political trends ahead of the 2014 presidential vote.
Defending the deal
Aher acknowledged his meeting with FPI West Java Chairman Qohhar NZ al-Qodsy in Bandung on February 21st.
"I did not agree to Islamic bylaws, as has been reported," he told BeritaSatu, but he did agree to "maintain the Islamic environment" which already exists in the province.
That means upholding worship practices and the ethics embraced by Muslims, he insisted. "Because the requests were like that, I agreed. But remember, as a state official I have the obligation to protect all citizens as mandated under the Constitution," he said.
As governor, he said, "I fought for every citizen to be equal before the law, regardless of ethnicity, religion, race or group. I respected human rights."
In response to this statement, Political Science student Restu said, "Elections can be tricky and political, but tolerance can go beyond all of this. We should prioritise what people need, and what we want is for everyone to live in tolerance and harmony."
Regardless of who is elected, Sutoro Eko, researcher at Institute of Research and Empowerment, said the winner must take seriously the people's mandate for accountability.
"They are responsible to the people. Democratic processes in the region need to be followed by leadership," he said. "Accountability, transparency, and of course tolerance and harmony are included in this process."