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  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo and first lady Iriana Joko Widodo show their ink-stained fingers after casting their ballots.

    Indonesian President Joko Widodo and first lady Iriana Joko Widodo show their ink-stained fingers after casting their ballots. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 April 2019

Indonesia's population of over 260 million people includes the world's largest Muslim population, which has led to a high emphasis on religion in this year's election.

Elections are underway in Indonesia, and millions are heading to the polls to vote between the incumbent President Joko Widodo and ex-general Prabowo Subianto in a rematch of the 2014 elections.

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Both candidates have already placed their votes this morning.

Polls are scheduled to close at 6 P.M. GMT with exit poll results expected within the next couple of hours. The projected frontrunner is Widodo, who served as governor of the capital before serving as president, according to public opinion polls. The winning candidate will serve as president for the next five years.

Indonesia's population of over 260 million people includes the world's largest Muslim population, which has led to a high emphasis on religion in this year's election. Both candidates have strategized their campaigns to align with the evergrowing popularity of conservative Islamist views in the country.

According to analysts, the only significant difference between the candidates' policy platforms is their stance on Chinese investment. Widodo has recently pushed for deals with China to invest in the country's infrastructure.

Made Supriatma, a visiting fellow and expert on Indonesian politics at the ISEAS-Yusof-Ishak Institute in Singapore says that identity politics are playing a huge role, and that "the only contrast [the candidates] can draw is by showing their religious credentials."

He adds that this election has become "a 'race to the right'... a race to show who is more Islamic conservative."

Widodo once marketed himself as a man of humble beginnings and a "man of the people," but many of his past supporters feel disillusioned by the abandonment of his old campaign promises to address human rights issues. His current campaign strategy consists of highlighting his religious credentials by appointing the influential Muslim figure Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate. Widodo has previously been classified as a religious moderate. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Prabowo is linked to the country's political elite. His father-in-law is Suharto, the former dictator who served as Indonesia's second president for 31 years. Most notably, the ex-general was known to have kidnapped at least nine activists who opposed Suharto, which was one of the reasons for his dismissal from the army. 

Despite his ties to the political elite, his campaign called to denounce the "evil elites in Jakarta". His promises include increased funding for religious institutions and protection of Islamic leaders. He has also supported the requirement for women and girls to wear hijabs when out in public.

While some sense a shift in Prabowo's political strategy, critics believe his victory would lead to authoritarian rule. 

This election is unique because it marks the first time the presidential, parliamentary and regional elections are held on the same day. 20,000 national and local legislative seats are up for grabs, and voters have over 245,000 to choose from. 

Some complications have surrounded the elections due to Indonesia's population, geography, and suspicions of electoral fraud. Indonesia's 17,000 islands, located along three different time zones, house about 192 million voters, which makes this election an extremely complicated one compared to most. 

Last week, the government initiated an investigation on videos circulating that showed footage of ballots in warehouses in Malaysia being marked in favor of Widodo. The Elections Supervisory Agency has advised some 320,000 Indonesians living on the island to recast their votes. "The decision to redo the voting is based on our investigation, in which we interviewed 13 officials, including the ambassador," said Rahmat Bagja, the agency's commissioner.

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