The Jakarta Post , Medan | Fri, 04/18/2008 12:43 PM

The candidates leading North Sumatra’s first-ever direct gubernatorial poll appeal to the province’s multiethnic and multireligious voters, an analyst here said Thursday.

Syamsul Arifin and his running mate Gatot Pudjonugroho are leading with more than 34 percent of the tally counted by the provincial General Elections Commission.

Syamsul is from the Melayu ethnic group and Gatot is Javanese.

By Thursday afternoon, only about 200,000 votes had been counted. The province has 8.3 million registered voters, but turnout has been low at about 43 percent, according to the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI).

Arief Nasution, dean of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the Universitas Sumatra Utara, said votes for the pair appeared to come from areas with mixed ethnic and religious populations.

One such area is Kampung Keling in the capital, Medan.

“Almost 70 percent of voters in Kampung Keling chose the Syamsul pair,” Arief said.

Kampung Keling is named after its dominant population of North Sumatrans of Indian descent but it is now also home to residents of Javanese and Chinese origin with a variety of religions including Hinduism and Buddhism.

North Sumatra has 11 ethnic groups among its 12 million residents. Those of Javanese descent make up 33 percent of the population.

Arief said the fact Syamsul and Gatot were nominated by 11 religious and nationalist parties also reflected their plural base. The parties include the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the United Development Party (PPP).

Resident Daulat Manurung said he voted for the pair even though he was Batak because he believed this was the pair “who could lead change in North Sumatra”.

“We hope Syamsul Arifin can accommodate all ethnicities and religious followers here so we can achieve harmony,” Daulat said.

Feared outbreaks of violence in North Sumatra due to ethnic or religious differences have never materialized, despite a number of bomb blasts in Medan and similar past conflicts in Maluku and Sulawesi

As of Thursday afternoon, the pair of former local military commander Tri Tamtomo and Benny Pasaribu, nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), were in second place with 26.49 percent of votes.

They were followed by Ali Umri and Maratua Simanjuntak. This position gives some hope to their supporting party, Golkar, as they had come last out of the five pairs of candidates in a quick count by the LSI on Wednesday.

Head of the provincial elections commission, Irham Buana Nasution, said the votes counted so far had come from Medan, Binjai and Serdang Bedagai regencies.

He said officials would announce results to the public on April 25.