Zee Media Bureau
Jakarta: Millions of Indonesians on Wednesday cast their ballots to choose their next President in an election that is being seen as a neck and neck contest between a Governor and a former Army General.
Indonesia, which has 190 million voters, is the third largest democracy in the world and the voters will today choose between Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta (also a former furniture maker), and Prabowo Subianto, an ex-army general, to elect the next President of their country.
According to earlier opinion polls, the election is slated to be a cliffhanger with both the candidates competing neck-and-neck.
However, an exit poll by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showed Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo leading ahead of ex-general Prabowo Subianto.
According to the Reuters, the exit poll showed Jokowi at 45.1 percent and Prabowo at 42.2 percent, based on interviews with 8,000 respondents across the country, said CSIS political analyst Tobias Basuki.
Also, quick counts of about 80 percent of votes showed Jokowi marginally ahead of Prabowo, the Governor of Jakarta claimed victory.
However, it did not shatter Prabowo`s hopes and according to him it is too early to say that Jokowi might have won.
"This is still in the quick count stage and several TV stations have different results. The final result will be July 22 by the KPU (Election Commission) so (we are) still optimistic that Prabowo (has won)," vice chairman of Prabowo`s Gerindra party, Fadli Zon, told Reuters.
The first polls opened at 07:00 local time on Friday in the east of the country while Jakarta and the island of Java began voting two hours later at 07:00 in their time zone.
Preliminary quick count results were expected later in the day, and extra police and military forces were added in case violence erupts. High voter turnout was expected following campaigning that has energized people across the country.
Just a couple of months ago, the election was considered firmly in favor of Joko Widodo, who rose from humble beginnings to become the governor of Jakarta with a squeaky-clean political record.
But the race is now too close to call thanks to a late surge by Prabowo Subianto, who has wooed legions of supporters with his calls for nationalism despite allegations of widespread human rights abuses during his military career and his connection with Suharto — his former father-in-law.
When the polls opened Wednesday morning to about 190 million people, analysts predicted that undecided voters will determine the winner. Preliminary quick count results were expected later in the day, and extra police and military forces were added in case violence erupts. High voter turnout was expected following campaigning that has energized people across the country.
About 2 million Indonesians abroad have been casting their votes since Saturday, and the overseas turnout has been significantly higher than in April`s legislative elections, when it was 22 percent, said Wahid Supriyadi, a foreign ministry official who heads the overseas election committee.
Supriyadi said so many voters showed up in Hong Kong on Sunday that more than 500 were unable to vote.
Television footage showed hundreds of people who appeared to be supporters of Widodo staging a noisy protest after the polling station in Victoria Park closed before they could cast their ballot.
Overseas voter turnout was 19 percent in the 2004 presidential election, and just 14 percent in 2009, according to the national election commission.
The two candidates are vastly different in their policies and styles. Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, is a soft-spoken man who likes to wear sneakers and casual plaid shirts, listen to heavy metal music and make impromptu visits to the slums.
Seen as a man of the people who wants to advance democratic reform even though he lacks experience in national politics, he represents a break from the past as the first candidate in direct elections with no connection to Suharto-era politics.
Subianto is known for his thundering campaign speeches, a penchant for luxury cars and having trotted up to one rally on an expensive horse. He has the support of the most hardline Islamic parties and has sparked concern among foreign investors worried about protectionism and a possible return to more authoritative policies.
Black campaigns, as smear tactics are known here, have surfaced in both camps. But Widodo, 53, has blamed his fall in opinion polls — from a lead of more than 12 percentage points in May to just around 3.5 points now — on character assaults that accused him, among other things, of not being a follower of Islam. He has denounced the charges as lies, but says it`s hard to undo the damage it caused in the world`s most populous Muslim nation.
"I think these black campaigns were effective enough to convince communities," said Hamdi Muluk, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia. "And that has directly ruined Widodo`s image."
But he added that Subianto`s past, including ordering the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists prior to Suharto`s fall in 1998, have not gone unnoticed and some voters fear a return to the brutal dictator`s New Order regime. Details about the abductions surfaced recently after the official findings of an army investigative panel were leaked.
"Considering the role models and figures behind Widodo`s team, I believe many new voters tend to support Jokowi," Muluk said. "A return to the New Order is not popular among youngsters or new voters. They are interested more in change."
The race is the country`s third direct presidential election, and has played out with fury in the social-media crazed country of around 240 million people. There has been a frenzy of "unfriending" on Facebook pages belonging to users who support different camps.
For the first time in its 31-year history, the English-language Jakarta Post last week endorsed a presidential candidate.
In choosing Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, the paper said it could not remain silent because the stakes were too high.
With Agency Inputs