Jakarta, Indonesia – Indonesians have started voting to choose their next president.
Voting got underway in the presidential and legislative elections at 7am on Wednesday (2300 GMT Tuesday) in easternmost provinces and voting begins in the capital Jakarta two hours later.
Indonesia has three time zones.
The presidential race pits incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his running mate, Indonesian Ulama Council Chairman Ma’ruf Amin, against retired general and longtime rival Prabowo Subianto and multi-millionaire businessman Sandiaga Uno.
Widodo and Amin are trying to project themselves as progressive yet religious, with a campaign slogan of “Advancing Indonesia”.
“I am a nationalist,” Widodo said on the announcement of his candidacy in August 2018. “He is a devout religious figure. We complement each other well.”
Prabowo, who has been accused of human rights abuses, ran against Widodo in 2014, while Uno is a businessman who spent a few months as deputy governor of Jakarta, after the mass rallies against Basuki Tjajaha Purnama (also known as Ahok) who was accused – and later convicted – of blasphemy.
The latest opinion polls in the lead-up to the election had Widodo-Amin leading by as many as 20 points, with a significant proportion of undecided voters.
Most political experts predict a closer result, however, given that 2014’s pre-election polls were similar, but Widodo ultimately beat Prabowo by just six points.
Both sets Prabowo and his supporters have said they will protest in the streets “if the vote is stolen” from them. Some supporters have also been accusing the Widodo camp of voter fraud, claiming they are registering foreign voters and using fake voter lists.
Social media is helping fuel such conspiracies, with tension between each set of the supporters running high.
On Twitter, Widodo supporters are referred to with derision as cebong (tadpoles), and Prabowo fans dismissed as kampret (bats).
“At least two pieces of fake news are widely believed by Prabowo supporters,” said Andreas Harsono, Indonesian Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“One is that they believe there are many mainland Chinese workers in Indonesia, even though this has been repeatedly debunked. Expatriates in Indonesia make up just 0.06 percent of the workforce, but Prabowo’s camp argue that there are millions of Chinese workers.
“The second is that they believe Jokowi is anti-Islam. They believe he is a good Muslim and a good grandfather, but they believe he is anti-Islam.
“These hoaxes will be very influential on many voters.”
“If it’s zero-one [referring to Widodo’s party number on the ballot paper], we know his track record. The other guy we’re not so sure, he looks like he’s flip-flopping, I’m not really sure about him,” Jeffrey Sidero, a Widodo supporter, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Both Widodo and Prabowo are courting the Muslim vote. Widodo’s running mate is a well-known conservative voice and part of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation.
Prabowo and Uno both have strong support from the anti-Ahok “212 movement”, including from unofficial leader Rizieq Shihab, currently in self-imposed exile due to pornography-related charges in Saudi Arabia.
But many say they will back Prabowo-Uno not because of religion, but because of the economy, encouraged by their promise to reduce the prices of electricity and staple foods like rice within 100 days of coming into power.
“How many Indonesians eat three meals a day?” Prabowo asked a crowd of more than 100,000 people at his final rally in Jakarta on April 7. “Do you want to remain servants forever?”
Prabowo-Uno are widely predicted to win in Jakarta, where their nationalistic policies are popular with both the working and middle classes.
Widodo-Amin, meanwhile, are promising to continue the focus on infrastructure and social support programmes. Under the current government, infrastructure has boomed , with new toll roads, ports and airports opening up access across the country.
“We have high hopes for zero-two [Prabowo] to become president, a president who defends our rights, cheap prices, cheap education for our children, cheap fuel prices and basic necessities,” said Akhirudin Konsi, a Prabowo supporter, as quoted by AP.
Wednesday will also see elections for parliamentarians taking place. Legislative elections are normally held months prior to presidential elections but the move means voters will be confronted with a list of tough choices.
The electoral commission’s website crashed on Monday evening due to the number of people looking for information on legislative candidates.