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Indonesian Voters Head to Polls

  • Kate Lamb

Supporters surround Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo (C) during a PDI-P party campaign in Cilegon, Banten province, March 28, 2014.

Supporters surround Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo (C) during a PDI-P party campaign in Cilegon, Banten province, March 28, 2014.

Some 187 million voters in Indonesia head to the polls Wednesday in parliamentary elections that will have a big influence on the country’s presidential poll in July.

In Indonesia, staging a national election is a huge logistical undertaking.

The country's 186.5 million registered voters are expected to participate at more than half a million polling booths on 900 islands.

At stake is not only who wins a seat in the regional and national parliaments, but what the results mean for the presidential election this July.

Current electoral laws stipulate that a party or coalition of parties must win 25 percent of the popular vote or 20 percent of seats in the national parliament to nominate a presidential candidate.

But polls show that only one party, the Democratic Party of Struggle or PDI-P, will definitely pass the threshold.

Aleksius Jemadu, the dean of political science at Jakarta’s Pelita Harapan University, said the opposition party is in the lead.

“For the legislative election I think there is a high chance for PDI-P to win the election, maybe 20-25 percent of the votes will go to PDI-P and that is sufficient for the PDI-P to nominate their own presidential candidate,” said Jemadu.

Ahead of Wednesday’s poll, the 12 parties taking part have staged rowdy, colorful rallies, recruited celebrities to run for office and created slick social media campaigns to boost their popularity.

But even as parties make every effort to attract voters, not one has managed to surpass the apparent popularity of the PDI-P, and its star candidate, Joko Widodo.

Known locally as Jokowi, the Jakarta governor is wildly popular for his reputation for transparency and his hands-on approach to governance.

After his presidential bid was confirmed last month, the PDI-P’s popularity jumped from 27 to 37 percent in a widely watched opinion poll. The same poll showed the next closest party lagging 20 percent behind.

Professor Jemadu said it is too soon to call a Widodo presidential victory a certainty, but he said it is clear Indonesian voters want change.

“Most people are fed up by all this corruption by the political parties and the parliament. The presidential election gives them some hope that change will take place, at least at the executive level,” said Jemadu.

Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been in power for almost a decade, but his administration has been marred by a string of high-level corruption cases, rising religious intolerance and a squandered political mandate.

A relative outsider with no connection to the country’s political elite, Joko Widodo is being touted as a new breed of Indonesian politician.

Nonetheless, even as Widodo offers hope and change, the voting system is riddled with corruption.

Ade Irawan, a researcher from Indonesia Corruption Watch, or ICW, said corrupt practices have increased since the last election five years ago.

According to Irawan, in 2009 the ICW found 130 cases of money politics, but this year they identified 140 cases - three days before the election.

This year, he added, candidates are also getting savvier about vote buying.

Vote brokers are now demanding voters show pictures on their mobile phone of their ballot papers before they are given money.

As well as cash, voters are also being offered new goods such as phone credit and health insurance.

Since the collapse of Suharto’s 32-year authoritarian rule, this year marks the fourth time Indonesians will democratically elect their parliament.

Results for the parliamentary election will be officially announced by May 9, but a quick count of the polls is expected within 24 hours.

With the exception of several fatal attacks in the semi-autonomous region of Aceh, North Sumatra, Wednesday’s election is widely expected to be peaceful.
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