Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil won the West Java governor's race, according to unofficial quick count results, overcoming stiff competition from the province's incumbent deputy governor and a flood of attack ads that went after the Muslim mayor for not being conservative enough.
Those ads, which accused Ridwan of everything from supporting LGBTQ rights (a controversial stance in Indonesia) to approving too many church construction permits during his term as mayor, were another sign of how elections in Indonesia are increasingly pushing candidates toward increasingly conservative and fundamentalist views.
In the months leading up to today's election, Ridwan has been called a closet Christian, a Shia Muslim, and an opponent of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Ridwan has consistently denied all the allegations, including that he supported LGBTQ rights, to take 32.57 percent of the vote, according to one quick count.
Ridwan's victory in one of Indonesia's most-conservative provinces was a sign, according to some observers, that a candidate's track record, and his campaign promises, still matter more than religion to voters.
"Ridwan Kamil’s competency is obvious," said Asep Warlan Yusuf, a political expert at Bandung's Parahyangan Catholic University. "You can see this from his public debates. He won three of the debates. He’s charming and he communicates his promises and programs in a way that’s easy to understand, and his different programs touch on the different needs of the people of Jawa Barat."
The man who was believed to be Ridwan's strongest competition in the race, incumbent Deputy Governor Deddy Mizwar, trailed far behind with 25.67 percent of the vote. But it was the opposition coalition's candidate, Sudrajat, who rose to second-place in a surprise election day surge of support.
Sudrajat, a retired general and supporter of Prabowo Subianto's 2019 presidential bid, was predicted to win only 10.8 percent of the vote. Instead, the military man, who ran with the deputy mayor of Bekasi, pulled ahead with 29.59 percent of the vote on a campaign that touched on something most polls had missed.
So while Ridwan's campaign success may be a sign that bonafides matter, Sudrajat's strong showing in the election, losing the governor's race by only 3 percent, could be read as a sign that the opposite is also true. In a crowded four-way race, Sudrajat was the most-conservative candidate and the one with the backing of both the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Prabowo's nationalist Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
"The black campaign affected the voters for RK (Ridwan Kamil)," Asep told VICE. "Issues about RK being pro-Shia, pro-LGBTQ, and that he wasn't aligned with Islamic values really affected the votes. He knew his counter-attacks wouldn't help much… and after the black campaigns against him, the undecided voters went to candidate number three (Sudrajat)."
In Depok, a satellite city on the outskirts of Jakarta, the capital's own governor's race, which shifted the discussion along sectarian lines, continued to weigh heavily on voters minds. Muhammad Nasir, 49, told VICE that he voted for Sudrajat both because he agreed with his vision for the province and he supported parties in opposition to the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)—the party of both President Joko Widodo and now-jailed former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
"Economically, Depok is still behind other cities in West Java," Nasir said. "Infrastructure development is already happening, but the roads are still uneven and people's welfare hasn't improved. So I selected the candidate I hoped could increase our prosperity and development."
"But the atmosphere of the Jakarta elections is still felt in Depok too. Islam is an important factor in my choice. So when the Jakarta election ended in a case like [Ahok's blasphemy trial] his party's supporters were also destroyed. I will not vote for that party. I choose to fight for Islam."
In Bekasi, Krisdaryadi FP, a 53-year-old consultant, voted for incumbent Deddy Mizwar and his running-mate Dedi Mulyadi because of the pair's past experience proved to him that they were good leaders.
"Dedi Mulyadi issued policies that ensured our diversity when he was a Purwakarta district chief," he said. "He respects Indonesian culture and never makes fun of it. They’ve proved their competence."
The mood was far different in Ridwan's hometown of Bandung, a leafy city of some 2 million people about three hours southeast of the capital. There, Ridwan enjoyed deep support among residents in a city where Ridwan has been in charge of City Hall for the last five years.
"I voted for Ridwan Kamil," said Maria Nanere, 46, of Bandung. "Yes, we’re neighbors, but that’s not the only reason I voted for him. I voted for him because we can see what he’s done for us. It’s risky to vote for other candidates because they’re new."
Ridwan celebrated his win before a packed crowd at the ballroom of Bandung's ritzy Hotel Papandayan, parading across the room's ornate red and gold carpet with a backing drum line of supporters of Persib Bandung, the insanely popular local football club.
He delivered an excited speech before the crowd, some of them visibly crying with joy, that touched on both religion and the province's diversity while promising to be a governor for everyone. West Java is the most-populous province in all of Indonesia, with 46 million people calling it home. But it's not remarkably diverse when it comes to religion. Some 97 percent of the province's residents are Muslim, according to government census data.
"I'm very proud of West Java because the people are religious and pious," Ridwan said in his victory speech. "They're in touch with God… We have to remember that it's important to have a high knowledge of our religion, as well as good morals. But I'm also proud because West Java is a multi-ethnic province. There's Sunda Priangan, Cirebon, but also Betawi. And, there’s also Pantura. Our administration will take care of all 27 cities and districts."
Ridwan spoke alone—his running-mate Uu Ruzhanul Ulum was on his way back from Tasikmalaya—and ended his speech with a playful goodbye to his supporters. "The next time we see each other will be at a place called Gedung Sate," he said, referring to the West Java Governor's Office.
Rina Dwi Purnita, a 22-year-old volunteer for the Ridwan campaign, was crying as she spoke with our reporter in Bandung, telling VICE that she joined Ridwan's "success team," because "he actually has fresh ideas. His planning is spot-on and innovative. I think the younger generation will agree with a lot of his ideas."
She told VICE that she was up late the night before praying for Ridwan's victory in the election.
“We as supporters are thankful to Allah for blessing and granting our prayers," she said. "We have prayed night and day and the results are very exciting. We are so thankful. When we first heard about [the quick count results] we were speechless and some of us were crying happy tears. Oh my God, this is an answer from God. We are so blessed."
—VICE reporters Sattwika Duhita and Adi Renaldi contributed to this report.