World

Close result in Indonesian election may signal instability

Candidates' contrasting views of country offers a stark contrast

JAKARTA Tens of millions of Indonesians will vote in presidential and parliamentary elections tomorrow after campaigns focused on the economy, but with political Islam looming ever larger in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

President Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman who launched his political career as a small-city mayor, is standing for re-election in a contest with ex-general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in 2014.

Most opinion polls give Mr Joko a double-digit lead but the opposition has disputed survey findings.

It has also said it has uncovered data irregularities affecting millions on the electoral rolls and has vowed to take legal action or use"people power" if its complaints are not resolved.

Some analysts say an unexpected win for the challenger would probably cause a brief slump in Indonesian markets, while a very close race could elevate the risk of a disputed vote.

"In a scenario in which Mr Joko wins by an unexpectedly narrow margin, large and prolonged protests in Jakarta would elevate tensions and pressure the currency," Mr Kevin O'Rourke, a political analyst and author of Reformasi Weekly, said in the Indonesia-focused newsletter last week.

While most polls have put the president ahead, they could not be taken for granted, a senior government official said.

"Absolutely everybody is flying blind because we don't know how far the opinion polls can be respected," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

  • Voters go to the polls tomorrow in Indonesia, the third biggest democracy behind India and the US.

    192 million

    Number of Indonesians eligible to vote.

    16

    Number of parties contesting the 575 seats in the House of Representatives, Indonesia's lower house of Parliament.

    245,000

    Number of candidates competing for nearly 24,000 seats in legislatures at the provincial and district level.

    805,068

    Number of polling booths staffed by more than six million election workers.

    453,000

    Number of police and soldiers, plus 1.6 million civil protection force members, who will be deployed. - AFP

Mr Joko ended his six-month campaign with a mass rally at Jakarta's main stadium at the weekend, where festive crowds overflowed into a surrounding park and streets.

Running out on stage in sneakers, to the cheers of the crowd after an hours-long concert by local bands, he struck an optimistic tone for the future of the world's third-largest democracy.

That was a stark contrast to his opponent, who has repeatedly warned Indonesia is on the verge of collapse.

Mr Prabowo, held a similarly big rally the previous weekend where supporters, many dressed in Islamic robes, held a mass prayer before a fiery speech about how Indonesia was being pillaged by foreigners and the elite.

Mr Joko has touted a record infrastructure drive and deregulation as major successes during his tenure, calling it a first step to tackle inequality and poverty in South-east Asia's biggest economy.

In a televised weekend debate, Mr Joko and his running mate, Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, said their opponents, neither of whom has served in public office for more than a few months, did not understand managing macrolevel economics.

Mr Joko, a moderate Muslim from central Java, has had to burnish his Islamic credentials after smear campaigns and hoax stories accused him of being anti-Islam, a communist or too close to China, all politically damaging in Indonesia.

Mr Prabowo, who has close links to some hardline Islamist groups, and his running mate, business tycoon Sandiaga Uno, have pledged to boost the economy by slashing taxes as much as 8 percentage points, and focus on key infrastructure projects. - REUTERS

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