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Indonesia - 2019 - Elections

Citizens across the archipelago will exercise their right to choose a new president, vice president, lawmakers and members of regional legislative councils on the same day, the first time ever these elections are held simultaneously in the country of about 260 million people.

One thing that seems clear is that a familiar cast of players will be in rotation in 2019, and most likely there will be a direct rematch. It is normal that President Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, remains the frontrunner, because an electorally successful president tends to suck all of the air out of the room. Jokowi is the first Indonesian president without military ties. A furniture-maker by trade, he rose within a decade from mayor of the Central Javanese city of Solo to governor of Jakarta to the presidency.

President Jokowi's favorability rating is strong per recent reports and, as incumbent, he remains the top choice for president in polls from this year. Jokowi's electability rating is 45-55 percent while Retired Indonesian military general Prabowo Subianto's is, at most, 35 percent, according to the Saiful Mujani Research Corporation, a leading pollster.

Prabowo was a Lieutenant General in the Indonesian Army and is married to the daughter of the late President Suharto, who led a military dictatorship for 32 years. Prabowo could be on a collision course with Jokowi for a rematch of their 2014 presidential election battle. Prabowo has already been on two losing tickets: in 2009, he was the running mate of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who lost to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a three-way race, and in 2014 he lost to Jokowi.

Prabowo sent a ripple through capital-watchers when he convened a party meeting at his West Java estate in April 2018 and told party members, "If the Gerindra Party orders me to advance in the upcoming presidential election, I am ready to carry out the task." This wasn't quite a formal announcement of Prabowo's candidacy, as some media interpreted the statement it was slightly more qualified than that. Gerindra doesn't have enough votes to field a candidate on its own and needs to cement a coalition.

Prabowo is genuinely ambivalent about running for president again. If Prabowo doesn't run, there is a slim chance that he joins current President Jokowi's own ticket as Vice-President which, according to the Gerindra Party, was on the table in 2014 too. The resurgence of Prabowo this year "show[s] the weakness of the opposition," said Yohannes Sulaiman, a defense analyst at General Achmad Yani University. "In mature democracies, like the United States, there are governors, senators, and so forth waiting in the wings." As an example, he cited the 2016 Republican primary, where there were initially ten people vying for the candidacy. "In Indonesia there are no new candidates at that level right now. And Jokowi is quite popular as well," he said.

"Perhaps the main factor pushing [Prabowo] toward running, in addition to his own ego and feeling that this is indeed his last chance, is the desire to keep Gerindra as strong as possible," said Bill Liddle, a political scientist at Ohio State University. "Remember Gerindra is a personalistic party, like Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Partai Demokrat, which lost more than half of its support when he was no longer a candidate. That is likely to happen now to Gerindra if Prabowo is not at the head of its ticket."

By early 2018 Gerindra held about 13 percent of the seats in Parliament and its coalition would need at least 7 percent more in order to field a national candidate. The Islamist Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, had said that it would support Gerindra no matter who was on its ticket, but Prabowo will likely seek at least one other party so the optics of his coalition are not overtly sectarian. PKS is the most successful Islamist party in Indonesia and has called in the past for implementing sharia nationwide.

As for the putative Jokowi-Prabowo ticket, the chances were slim. A member of Jokowi's PDI-P party told reporters, "At present, there is something that is not compatible, so common ground is still being sought...." If Jokowi and Prabowo somehow joined on a ticket, it would be bad for Indonesian democracy because there would be no opposition.

The largely uninspiring campaign for the April 17 presidential poll between President Joko Widodo and Subianto centered around the economy. The Indonesian economy had been growing at about 5 per cent, below the 7 per cent targeted by the president when he took office in 2014. Prabowo was widely judged to be campaigning with less enthusiasm than in 2014, when he narrowly lost to Jokowi.

Pre-election polling in Indonesia had largely shown Mr Joko with a double-digit lead though the gap had been narrowing. Jokowi was forecast to win, according to a Roy Morgan poll that put support for him at almost 57 per cent. Five years ago, Mr Joko won the election with a relatively narrow margin of just over 6 percentage points. Jokowi's team showcasrf his Islamic piety, bringing the media along when he attended Friday prayers. The shift risked costing him the support of secular young voters and minorities who brought him to power in 2014.

Jokowi distanced himself from the secularism of the 2014 campaign. He failed to support his former ally, the ethnically Chinese and Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama Ahok, who was accused of blasphemy and subsequently jailed in May 2017. Jokowi failed to keep his campaign promises to address human rights concerns in Papua or the still un-investigated 1965-66 coup and mass killings. Jokowi dressed in public in more traditional Muslim attire. He also, controversially, picked a conservative Islamic cleric, Maruf Amin, as his vice presidential running mate.

Prabowo Subianto's campaign team dismissed most independent opinion polls showing incumbent Joko Widodo with a double digit lead, saying the former general is on course to win the election by a wide margin. Mr Prabowo, as Subianto is commonly known, will secure 62 per cent of the votes if elections were held today, his campaign team said in Jakarta on 07 April 2019, citing a survey of 1,440 respondents it carried out the previous week.

Prabowo's pitch to take steps to end economic inequality, lower costs of staples and put an end to transfer of the nation's wealth overseas was increasingly finding resonance with voters. Prabowo uses nativist and nationalistic themes, portraying himself as a leader capable of coming up with solutions for Indonesians who feel insecure both about their daily lives and the nation's place in the world.

It will be worlds biggest direct presidential elections (because the US uses an electoral college) and one of the most complicated single-day elections in global history. On top of President Joko Widodo and challenger Prabowo Subianto's headline contest, more than 245,000 candidates will run for more than 20,000 seats across hundreds of islands. Despite the logistical challenges and the governments poor reputation for coordination, the election commission (KPU) has a surprisingly good track record of delivering fair elections, with the results ultimately accepted by politicians and the public alike.

Vote buying, where candidates or their agents hand out cash, cooking oil and rice, is widespread, with up to one third of Indonesians receiving such a bribe, according to one study. But it is not clear how effective such methods are, particularly for national elections. Secret ballots mean that those handing out cash have no reliable means to check who voters have chosen. Joko Widodo suggested he has won a second term in office, but his rival is also claiming victory and alleges there was widespread cheating. Early estimates by reputable polling groups said Joko had about 55 percent of the vote, leading former military leader Prabowo Subianto by about 10 percentage points. Joko initially said he would wait for the official announcement of results scheduled for next month, but a day later he seemed confident that he'd won. Joko said on Thursday, "I have dispatched someone to talk to Prabowo so that we can communicate and maybe even meet, so that then, the people will be able to see that the election is over and done with smoothly and peacefully." Joko added that he received congratulatory calls from leaders of neighboring countries.

But his rival had not conceded defeat. Prabowo gathered hundreds of supporters in front of his house to claim victory. Prabowo said, "The vote survey organizations, you guys are liars. You can go lie to the penguins in Antarctica." Prabowo's camp says it will complain to the Constitutional Court if the election commission declares Joko the winner. Prabowo did the same in the 2014 election, but the court confirmed Joko had won.

More than 300 election officials reportedly died of exhaustion-related illnesses. Generally, the cause of the illness is exhaustion. More than 2,000 others also reportedly fell ill. In the previous elections five years ago, where the legislative and the presidential elections were conducted separately, more than 150 people died. Then and now, the officials safeguarded not only the elections, but also Indonesias goodwill as a democratic nation.




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