JAKARTA, Indonesia — Voters in Indonesia headed to the polls on Wednesday morning in the world’s largest direct presidential election, to decide who will lead the country for the next five years.
More than 190 million Indonesians are set to cast a ballot as polls opened shortly after 7:00 am local time (2200 GMT Tuesday) in restive Papua. The vote is slated to end at 1:00 pm (0600 GMT) in Sumatra at the other end of the volcano-dotted archipelago.
Some voters went to their local mosque before casting ballots, as the daily call to prayer sounded across a nation that is nearly 90 percent Muslim.
A record 245,000 candidates are running for public office, from the presidency and parliamentary seats to local positions — the first time all are being held on the same day.
Voters will flock to more than 800,000 polling stations where they’ll punch holes in ballots — to make clear their candidate choice — and then dip a finger in Muslim-approved halal ink, a measure to prevent double-voting in a graft-riddled country where ballot-buying is rife.
The polls present a huge logistical challenge in a country stretching 4,800 kilometres across more than 17,000 islands with a population of more than 260 million, including hundreds of ethnic groups and languages.
Officials were moving cardboard ballot boxes by motorbikes, boats and planes — as well as elephants and horses — to reach mountaintop villages and communities deep in the jungle.
A series of so-called “quick counts” are expected to give a reliable indication of the presidential winner later Wednesday. Official results are not expected until May.
Prabowo Subianto, an ex-general and son-in-law of the former dictator Suharto, is seeking a win against President Joko Widodo, who defeated Mr. Prabowo in the last election, five years ago.
Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, is the first president to hail from outside the military and political elite since the country’s transition to democracy in 1998.
A successful furniture salesman from a modest background, Jokowi rose to prominence as the mayor of Solo, a midsize city in Central Java, and in 2012 he went on to become the governor of Jakarta, the nation’s capital—a city so large it is run by a governor and regional legislature rather than a mayor and city council. He used the role as a springboard to run for president in 2014, winning a closely contested race.
Mr. Joko, 57, who has emphasized infrastructure development while attempting to shore up support among traditional Muslims, holds a commanding lead in public opinion polls. He was the governor of Jakarta, the capital, before becoming president.
Jokowi’s main opponent in that race represented a very different political lineage: Prabowo Subianto was a wealthy magnate, a former special forces general, and the former son-in-law of Suharto, the military strongman who ruled Indonesia for more than 30 years.
The 2019 election is, on face value, a 2014 repeat: Jokowi, now the establishment pragmatist rather than the hope-and-change upstart, is once again vying with Prabowo for the nation’s highest office.
Indonesian presidential politics is not arrayed along a stark left-right spectrum but is instead focused on candidates’ personalities and proposals. This arena of attitudes and affects is where Jokowi and Prabowo diverge most substantially.
Jokowi, a technocratic-minded moderate, is running on a platform centered around economic development, infrastructure investment, and job creation. Prabowo is also focused on the economy but has put forward a more militarist, stoutly nationalist, and at times xenophobic vision, and he has forged closer ties with popular Islamist movements.
A second term for Jokowi would mean five more years of his struggle to implement growth-oriented economic reforms while navigating complex identitarian issues and threats to pluralism. A Prabowo victory would point the country in a new, more nationalist, potentially more autocratic direction. Conservatives, Islamist radicals, and the military would likely have more purchase in the halls of power.
Jokowi has not delivered the full range of economic improvements he promised five years ago but has nonetheless pursued them aggressively, sometimes at the expense of human rights protections. Voters will have to measure his track record against that of Prabowo, who stands accused of a litany of human rights violations committed under Suharto, was banned for years from entering the United States due to his rights record, and was accused by former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie of attempting a coup.
Opinion polls show Widodo, 57, is a clear favourite — but he faces a tough challenge from Subianto, 67, who has leaned on a fiery nationalist ticket and warned he will challenge the results over voter-list irregularities if he loses.