At 8 a.m. today, the regional elections in 101 provinces, regencies and cities throughout the Indonesian archipelago opened.

However, all eyes are on Jakarta and it’s 7.1 million voters as they decide who would become the city’s next governor – a key post sometimes jokingly referred to as the “third presidency.”

The three-month election campaign period in the capital has been marred by religious rhetoric, but the election is also seen as a prelude to the 2019 presidential election.

The incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama (pictured above) and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat are seeking a second term in office.

Basuki came into office in 2014 when he was then the Jakarta deputy governor. He was inaugurated as governor after his predecessor Joko Widodo won the presidential election that year.

An ethnic Chinese Christian in a majority Javanese Muslim city, Basuki is currently facing trial on charges of blasphemy for allegedly insulting the Quran in November last year. He has claimed trial.

The allegations and his background have galvanized protests from Muslim hardliners against him in the run-up to today’s election.

While Basuki remains a frontrunner in the race, the indication is that former culture and education minister Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno are not far behind in the election for the post.

The top spenders

Anies and Sandiaga have spent 68.9 billion rupiah (US$5.2 million) to become the top spenders in the three-month campaign, compared with Basuki’s 53.6 billion rupiah, according to local media reports on their campaign finance expenses.

Anies’ nomination is backed by Prabowo Subianto, who is a former general implicated in human rights abuses during the 1998 Jakarta riots and is seen as a holdout of the Suharto-era military dictatorship.

He had contested in the 2014 presidential election and narrowly lost to Joko, but is reportedly “almost certain” to try again for the 2019 presidential election.

A win by allies in Jakarta will boost Prabowo’s chances.

Also in the running is the newcomer Agus Harimurti and his running mate Sylviana Murni.

Though new to politics, Agus is the eldest son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The voting closes at 1 p.m. Counting will take about two weeks, although unofficial “Quick Count” results will start rolling in within hours after the elections close.

However, this is unlikely to mean that a winner would emerge by the end of the month.

Jakarta law requires that winning candidates garner a simple majority of votes, and not simply have more votes than their opponents.

Polling data suggests that none of the three candidate pairs command the support of more than half the voters.

This means that a run-off election between the top two tickets is likely to take place in May, when the world will finally find out who is Jakarta’s governor for the next term.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on Malaysiakini.

TNL Editor: Edward White