Asia Pacific / Politics

Indonesia's Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo on track to win presidency: pollsters

Bloomberg

Indonesians have voted in the world’s biggest single-day election, with unofficial tallies putting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ahead with 55 percent with around 38 percent of votes counted.

Kompas news channel has Jokowi leading with 55.37 percent in the bitterly fought campaign dominated by promises to boost jobs and the economy against a backdrop of growing religious intolerance and the rising influence of political Islam. At least three other counts by private pollsters showed similar margins.

A re-run of the 2014 race, it pit former furniture exporter Jokowi — now the incumbent — against Prabowo Subianto, an army general who served as a special forces commander during the 32 year reign of the dictator Suharto. The campaign, which officially began back in September, saw both candidates vowing to fire up Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as well as heightened nationalism and allegations of voter fraud.

As many as 193 million Indonesians were eligible to vote in Wednesday’s elections — the country’s first simultaneous presidential and legislative elections. The contest will not only decide who leads Indonesia but will shape the parliament, and therefore the landscape for reform — as well as the investment climate — over the next five years.

Jokowi, as Widodo is popularly called, vowed during the campaign to create 100 million jobs and alleviate poverty in the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation. Prabowo promised to revive Indonesia’s manufacturing sector while railing against Indonesia’s current account deficit and the inability of the current administration to spur economic growth much beyond 5 percent.

Quick counts by private pollsters are likely to provide the earliest indication of how the candidates fared as officials results are several days away. These numbers are based on snapshots of actual votes from more than 800,000 polling stations across the country — the margin of error depends on the sample size, though the consensus of these polls has proven accurate in the past.

After casting his vote at a polling station in Central Jakarta, Jokowi told reporters he was optimistic about winning the election.

Prabowo repeated warnings about the possibility of electoral fraud after he voted in Hambalang, near Bogor. “If there is chaos or not, it will not come from us, that I guarantee,” Prabowo said. “But we don’t want to be cheated anymore, the Indonesian people won’t be cheated anymore.”

As polling stations closed at 1 p.m. local in times zones across the archipelago, authorities remained on alert amid concerns of potential unrest. In Jakarta, armored vehicles were parked in front of shopping malls, while tens of thousands of security forces had been deployed around the capital.

Two years ago, the Prabowo-backed pair of Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno won a divisive gubernatorial election in the capital Jakarta. That race, dominated by mass street protests aimed ousting then-incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian and Jokowi ally later jailed for insulting the Koran, is seen as having boosted Prabowo’s stocks ahead of his 2019 run at the presidency.

That also ensured the 2019 race would be set against the backdrop of a growing influence of conservative Islam. To many observers, the unrest seen two years ago prompted Widodo to pick a leading Muslim cleric in Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.

This election is “much more about political identity” compared to the 2014 race, said Aaron Connelly, a Singapore-based research fellow from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Jokowi has sought to co-opt a number of Islamic conservatives,” Connolly said, noting his choice of Amin was designed to “make a number of Muslims who might feel uncomfortable voting for Jokowi feel a little more comfortable voting for him.”

“Prabowo is backed by a number of political conservatives,” he said. “He’s seen as the candidate of Islamic conservatives even though he himself is not particularly religious.”

Inflation is at a near-decade low and the jobless rate close to its lowest in 20 years. Still, the economy has been growing at about 5 percent and well short of the 7 percent target put forward by Jokowi when he entered office in 2014.

Mari Pangestu, Indonesia’s trade minister from 2004 to 2011, said whoever wins will face major challenges to revitalize the economy. “The key is really generating private investment if you want to grow higher than 5 percent,” Pangestu said.

Foreign direct investment dropped 8.8 percent in 2018, the first decline since Jokowi came to office in 2014.

Still, Indonesia is “fairly resilient” in the face of a global slowdown, Pangestu said. “There could be a cut,” she said on interest rates, which have been left unchanged for several months after six rates hikes since May last year.