Here’s What You Need to Know About Indonesia’s Massive Elections

Religion has been a hot election topic, with both candidates seeking to portray their hard-line Islamic credentials

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18 April 2019, 5:26am

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

The early counts are in for Indonesia’s monster election, and it looks like the incumbent President Joko Widodo is set for another five years in charge of the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

Initial counts released hours after polling stations close suggest Widodo — widely known as Jokowi — has received over 55 percent of the vote, giving him a decisive lead over his longtime rival Prabowo Subianto. About 192 million people were eligible to vote in Wednesday’s elections, with 6 million election workers manning 810,000 polling stations.

“From the indications of the exit poll and also the quick counts, we can see it all, but we must be patient to wait for the official counting from the electoral commission,” Jokowi told supporters. The final results won’t be announced until next month.

While the early counts are conducted by reputable survey organisations and have proven accurate in the past, Subianto has disputed them, saying his own campaign’s exit poll saw him leading.

“There have been attempts from pollsters and surveys that we know of, cooperating with one side, to steer public opinion as if we have lost,” the former military leader said outside his home in Jakarta on Wednesday. “My fellow countrymen, we must not be provoked.”

The electoral commission said the vote was conducted without widespread hitches.

The election was largely fought over major issues like the economy, infrastructure and regional security, but in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, religion has also been a hot election topic, with both candidates seeking to portray their hard-line Islamic credentials.

Jokowi campaigned in 2014 to boost religious freedom, but this time around he brought in hard-line Muslim cleric Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate, to appeal to the growing population of conservative Islamists — who would have typically voted for Prabowo.

Indonesia’s election is huge

For the first time ever, presidential, parliamentary and regional elections are all taking place on the same day in Indonesia. That meant that more than 245,000 candidates are in the running for some 20,000 national and local legislative seats.

The unique geography of Indonesia — an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands — brings its own logistical problems, with ballot papers delivered by plane, speedboat, canoe, and horseback.

Only India’s elections are bigger, with some 900 million people voting. But while India takes almost six weeks to conduct its elections, Indonesia has wrapped everything up in just six hours.

Who are the candidates?

The 2019 presidential race was a re-run of the 2014 race, and it looks like Jokowi will once again best his longtime political opponent Subianto.

Jokowi is seen as a man of the people, having risen from humble beginnings as a furniture salesman to become the first person outside Indonesia’s elite to lead the country.

During the campaign, the 57-year-old incumbent sought to boost his popularity among younger voters, who make up 40 percent of the voting population.

Jokowi appeared via hologram, posted photos of his pet goat on social media and referenced “Game of Thrones.”

But critics point to his failure to address serious human rights issues in the country, particularly in relation to LGBT concerns, with the country recently considering criminalising homosexual sex.

Subianto, on the other hand, is seen as a military strongman and more closely associated with the political elite in Indonesia, having previously been married to the daughter of the former dictator Gen Suharto. Subianto has been accused of being complicit in the human rights abuses during Suharto’s dictatorship — allegations he denies.

During his five years in charge, Jokowi has overseen steady economic growth across the country, but Subianto says he has allowed the price of food to rise too quickly and has not attracted enough high-quality jobs.

While the candidates’ campaigns were run along fairly similar lines, the major area of difference was in relation to China: Jokowi has promised to court huge Chinese investment in Indonesia if re-elected, while ultra-nationalist Subianto blames Indonesia’s ills on foreign investment and has promised to scrutinise all existing Chinese projects in the country.

Cover: Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his wife Iriana show their inked finger after casting their ballots during the election at a polling station in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)