News / Asia

Indonesia’s Presidential Race Heats Up

FILE - Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (L) looks on as he sits with his wife Iriana during a campaign rally in Majalengka, West Java province.
FILE - Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (L) looks on as he sits with his wife Iriana during a campaign rally in Majalengka, West Java province.
Kate Lamb

Indonesia’s presidential race heads into its final week as Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo faces off against Prabowo Subianto, a former Army Special Forces Commander. The tight election campaign has not been free of controversy.

As the July 9 election date approaches, 187 million voters in the world’s third-largest democracy prepare to head to the polls.

Over recent months, the popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, or Jokowi as he is known here, has watched his comfortable lead of more than 25 percent drop to single digits.

Joko Widodo

  • Governor of Jakarta
  • Presidential candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle
  • Known by nickname Jokowi
  • Former mayor of Solo in Java
  • Known for 'blusukan' impromptu stops and visits

Prabowo Subianto

  • Former army general
  • Coalition of parties backing him as presidential candidate
  • Founded the Gerindra party
  • Accused of human rights abuses in East Timor
  • Son-in-law of late longtime dictator Suharto


Most polls still place Jokowi in front, but only by a slim margin. His opponent, Prabowo Subianto, has put forward an extremely strong campaign and in some polls is trailing by just three percent.

Douglas Ramage, a political analyst with the Bower Group Asia, said Prabowo has long prepared for this moment.

“Bear in mind this is a presidential candidate who may be one of the most experienced presidential candidates in Asia. He has run for president three times in Indonesia and he has gotten good at it,” said Ramage.

Prabowo’s well-run campaign and commanding, nationalistic speeches about reclaiming Indonesia’s resource wealth are attracting a growing number of voters. But his rise has not been without controversy.

The former general is accused of human rights abuses in East Timor and of ordering the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998, while serving as commander of the Army’s special forces.

Critics fear that Prabowo, who has never been tried in a civilian court of law over the claims, could roll back democratic freedoms Indonesians have enjoyed since the fall of former president Suharto.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake appeared to weigh in on the conversation too, telling The Wall Street Journal that while the United States did not take a position on the election, it has urged Indonesia to investigate the alleged rights abuses.

The comments have sparked anger among some government officials here who say it is unacceptable for the United States to meddle in domestic affairs. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa on Monday described the comments as “a lapse of judgment that is difficult to accept.”

Others, like Aleksius Jemadu, a political science professor from Pelita Harapan University, said the United States is implicitly pushing for a leader willing to accommodate U.S. foreign policy and its strategic interests.

“I think it is very clear that the Prabowo administration is going to be very nationalistic and might not be easy for the United States to invite Indonesia into its strategic calculation of the United States vis-a-vis China's rising at the moment,” said Jemadu.

As Prabowo edges closer, Jokowi’s popularity appears to have been hurt by a series of smear campaigns that allege he is Christian or ethnic Chinese.

In a country that is predominately Muslim, Jokowi has been forced to devote time to dispel the rumors - time analysts say has caused him to cede ground.

But Jokowi’s reputation for clean governance and populist leadership style still appeal to some voters.

This year’s election is an important milestone in Indonesia’s democratic progress as it will mark the first time power will be handed over from one elected leader to another.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is finishing his second five-year term and is ineligible to seek a third term in office.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs