Indonesia elections

All the Elections You Need to Pay Attention to Today

Our pre-election breakdown.
Ballot boxes being prepared in Kediri, East Java. Photo by Prasetia Fauzani/Antara Foto via Reuters

It's election day in Indonesia. Or at least it is if you live in any of the 171 provinces, cities, or districts that are choosing their new elected officials today. But even if you do, 171 races is a lot to keep your eyes on. Which ones matter most? Which ones are worth reading about? Which elections are likely to impact our lives, regardless of whether or not we live in that voting district?

All of us here are VICE's Indonesia office are following the gubernatorial races in five provinces. Maybe you're a political junkie and you're watching way more. But if you're not, take a moment and let us tell you why the following races are really, really important.


West Java

I mean, it's West Java. That should be enough right? Not only is it Indonesia's most-populated province, not only is it right next door to the capital, but it's also the kind of race that can help shift the outcome of next year's presidential election. Whoever wins will be able to help their party's affiliated presidential candidate hit the ground and drum up some support in next year's national elections, explained Ari Ganjar, a political expert at Bandung's Universitas Padjadjaran.

This is shaping up to be good news for President Joko Widodo. While his backing political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), has its own candidate pair in the race, TB Hasanuddin, a former military general, and Anton Charliyan, the chief of the West Java Police, the pair are performing poorly in the polls at between 5 and 6 percent.

But the Gerindra-backed pair of Sudrajat, another retired general, and Syaikhu, the deputy mayor of Bekasi, aren't performing all that much better, with polls placing their votes at 10.8 percent, at most.

So who is leading the race? Two candidates who both have the backing of political parties in Jokowi's ruling coalition. Either Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil or Deputy Governor Deddy Mizwar is in the lead, depending on which poll you trust, and both are backed by broad coalitions that include parties close to Jokowi.

The National Democrats (NasDem), the National Awakening Party (PKB), the United Development Party (PPP), and Hanura are all backing Ridwan in the race. All three are members of the ruling coalition, which bodes well for Jokowi as long as he can keep the coalition together.


And in the rival race, the Democratic Party and Golkar are backing Deddy's gubernatorial bid. Golkar is also a coalition members, while the Democrats, who maintained a neutral position in the 2014 election, are still holding back to see the potential of mounting their own presidential candidate next year.

Gerindra's ticket of Sudrajat-Syaikhu have already hitched their wagons to Prabowo's (potential) presidential campaign and the pair are trailing so far behind that there's a good chance Prabowo could be facing political headwinds in one of Indonesia's most-conservative provinces if they lose—a difficult position to be in for a candidate actively courting the country's fundamentalist fringe.

But the presidential election is still ten months away, and a lot can happen in that amount of time, so we'll have to wait and see.

Central Java

Central Java is PDI-P country and incumbent Governor Ganjar Pranowo, a party member, is so far ahead in the polls that the race is basically already won. It's an important victory for Jokowi, but not necessarily a blow for Prabowo. Central Java isn't exactly a battle-ground province. Every election since the country's post-Suharto democratic shift has gone to the PDI-P and in the last presidential election, Jokowi won Central Java with an overwhelming amount of the vote, at 66.65 percent.

In that election, Prabowo was able to take West Java and Banten, the two conservative provinces that border Jakarta and together account for 21 percent of all votes cast in the last presidential race. Prabowo won that race with double-digit leads in both, so the West Java race says a lot more about next year's election than this one.


East Java

The East Java election is still super close, with rivals Khofifah Indar Parawansa and incumbent Saifullah Yusuf separated by only a few percentage points in most polls.

Now, this is an interesting local race, but it really lacks the national implications of some of the other elections on this list. While the rest of the elections in Java could be characterized as ruling vs opposition/Jokowi vs Prabowo proxy battles, all those national allegiances fall to the wayside when you hit East Java. Out here, even the PDI-P and Gerindra are backing the same candidate (Saifullah, or Gus Ipul as he is popularly known) and the rival (Khofifah) was once a minister in Jokowi's cabinet.

The reason this race fails to follow the popular conventions of using these campaigns as precursors to the big election is because in East Java, the backing of the Nahdlatul Ulama, or the NU, matters a lot more than that of political bosses and politicians in Jakarta. While the NU and the PKB are historically connected, it doesn't mean that NU members are necessarily going to vote for the PKB candidate (Khofifah). And Gus Ipul has some pretty deep roots in the NU as well, so really this race is coming down to who voters like the most.

North Sumatra

It could've been Jakarta's ex governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat second shot as governor, but most polls place the PDI-P politician in a distant second to Edy Rahmayadi, of Gerindra. All of us here at VICE's Indonesia office took an early interest in this election, with contributor Aisyah Llewellyn filing stories during the early days of Djarot's campaign, but even back then most people saw Djarot as an outsider with little chance of actually winning the election.

His rival Edy has deep roots in Sumatra and name recognition that reaches far into the province's rural communities, which is likely the reason behind his sizable lead in the election. We'll be providing coverage of the election results later on today.

South Sulawesi

For gubernatorial candidate Ichsan Yasin Limpo, politics is sort of a family business. He is the latest in a long line of his brothers and sisters to try to run for office in South Sulawesi, a province that has been run by the Limpo family dynasty for years. But Ichsan was limping in third place in the polls despite his connections (or in spite of them, depending on where you stand). The family has been chased by corruption allegations for years, so the campaign success of Nurdin Abdullah, an anti-corruption activist, makes sense. Maybe the voters of South Sulawesi want a cleaner government.

But then there's the other man rising to the top of the polls, Nurdin Halid, a Golkar politician with a long track record of being implicated in corruption scandals. He even served time behind bars for his role in a graft-ridden rice import scheme back in 2005, so maybe there is more at play here than just the popularity of a reformist ticket.