JAKARTA: More than 200 million Indonesians are expected to go to the polls on Wednesday in the world’s largest single-day election to choose not only a new president and vice president, but also parliamentary and local representatives.
The simultaneous presidential and legislative elections will determine who will succeed President Joko Widodo, who is serving his second and final term, as well as some 20,000 national, provincial, and district parliamentary positions.
The presidential election, which will mark Indonesia’s first change of leadership in a decade, is a three-way race between current Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.
The 75-day presidential election campaign ended on Saturday, with several opinion polls showing Subianto in the lead.
General elections in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, are a massive undertaking, with over 204 million of the country’s 270 million population registered to vote across an archipelago made up of some 17,000 islands. Young people make up the majority of registered voters this year, over half of whom are aged between 17 and 40, according to the General Elections Commission.
This election season, the fifth since Southeast Asia’s largest economy began democratic reforms in 1998, has raised concerns that the country is in danger of sliding back toward its authoritarian past under the late military ruler Suharto who held power for over three decades.
“This election is crucial as it will determine whether we will be led by an element of the New Order, which was a dictatorship, or continue the leadership of candidates from the reformation era,” Saidiman Ahmad, researcher at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, told Arab News.
Ahmad was alluding to Subianto, the former son-in-law of Suharto and former military general, who has been accused of human rights violations in East Timor and faced allegations of involvement in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998.
In his third race to become president — after twice losing to Widodo — Subianto has the incumbent leader’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his running mate.
The arrangement was possible after a controversial ruling by the constitutional court, headed by Widodo’s brother-in-law Anwar Usman, changed the eligibility criteria for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, allowing Raka to run alongside Subianto. Aged 36, Raka did not meet the previous constitutional requirement of 40 years to compete for the office.
Widodo, who presided over steady growth and relative stability during his back-to-back terms, has faced mounting criticism over his perceived political meddling and push to establish a political dynasty.
Didik Hariyanto, a lecturer at Paramadina University, told Arab News that this election is a “test for democracy and the spirit of the 1998 reform” in Indonesia.
“Why so? Because one of the contestants was involved in a process that concerns a ‘serious’ breach of ethics to run as a vice presidential candidate,” Hariyanto said, referring to an ethics council finding Usman guilty of making changes to election candidacy requirements.
“It so happens that the contestant in question is the child of President Joko Widodo, and there are concerns among the public that with the father’s power and in order to support his son, state instruments have been mobilized.”
Tunggal Pawestri, a women’s rights activist and executive director of Humanis Foundation, said the entire election process has been problematic.
“I think this is a threat to our democracy, a threat to the fruits of reformation that we have continued to fight for in the last 25 years. This election is controversial because it feels as if we are going back to the New Order era,” Pawestri told Arab News.
But the controversies also became a point of entry for 18-year-old voter Natasia, who started doing more research as the political developments piled up.
“I think the controversies surrounding the election this time around is why many young people are more interested in it,” she said. “I’ve considered all aspects, including their character and background. I want to vote because I want to support my choice of candidates with my voting right.”