Indonesians in 101 regions head to the polls, with Jakarta the hottest contest

Officials at the polling station in Cipayung, East Jakarta.
Officials at the polling station in Cipayung, East Jakarta.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
Voters and officials at the polling station in Cipayung, East Jakarta.
Voters and officials at the polling station in Cipayung, East Jakarta.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
Indonesians begin voting in local elections across the sprawling archipelago, after a bitterly fought campaign to win the prize of governing the capital, Jakarta, that has inflamed religious tensions in the Muslim-majority nation.

JAKARTA - More than 13,000 polling stations in Jakarta were opened at 7am local time (8am Singapore time) on Wednesday (Feb 15) for voters to make their picks on who will lead Indonesia's capital for the next five years.

But while all eyes will be on the contest in Jakarta, there are also simultaneous elections in a hundred more places across the country. These include elections in Aceh, a semi-autonomous province located in the far western tip of Sumatra, over various parts of Java and ending in the eastern regions of the country.

There are a total of 41 million eligible voters and 337 pairs of candidates for the polls. Indonesians will be electing governors of seven provinces, mayors and regents for 18 cities, as well as local leaders in 76 districts.

Voters in Raja Ampat Islands, known for its pristine beaches and undisturbed coral reefs, were the first in Indonesia to cast their ballots on who they want as leader of West Papua province. Polls there were opened two hours earlier than in Jakarta due to the difference of Indonesia's three time zones.

A new rule introduced during these elections will prohibit camera-phones from being brought into polling booths. This was to prevent vote-buying as culprits in past elections had used camera-phones to take photos of their marked ballots as proof of their vote in order to collect their "reward".

The polls will close at 1pm local time (2pm Singapore time). While official results of the 101 simultaneous elections will only be out early next month, a snap count of the votes for the Jakarta contest will be telecast by BeriSatu news channel in conjuction with local pollster Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting.


In the Jakarta race are incumbents, Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, and his deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). They are up against former army major Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and City Hall veteran Sylviana Murni from the Democratic Party, which is led by former president and Mr Agus' father, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; and the Gerindra Party's pair of former education minister Anies Baswedan and businessman Sandiaga Uno.

Observers have said the Jakarta polls may have a bearing on the 2019 presidential race, not only because the city's last elected governor, Mr Joko Widodo, is now Indonesia's seventh president, but also because Jakarta normally gets the most publicity in the national media.

There is also the ongoing blasphemy trial against Mr Basuki, a Christian politician who has faced increasing opposition not just from his political opponents but also from hardline Muslims who do not want a non-Muslim to lead the capital.

The results of snap polls over the last few months saw Mr Basuki's lead in the popular vote exchanged between Mr Anies and Mr Agus, but the most recent polling shows the Basuki-Djarot pair reclaiming the lead from Agus-Sylviana, who also lost ground to Anies-Sandiaga.


Of the three pairs of candidates, Mr Anies and Mr Sandiaga seem to have gained the most ground with gains of between 10 and 13 percentage points in snap polls, making them a dark horse in the race.

But with none of the candidates securing more than 50 per cent of support thus far, many experts are also expecting the Jakarta gubernatorial contest to go into a second round of voting. This is where the pair with the lowest votes in the Feb 15 polls will drop out, leaving the remaining two to face off for the post in another round of voting.

The Feb 15 polls is only the country's second simultaneous election since a law that allows direct election was passed 2004. Before the first such election on Dec 9, 2015, Indonesia had never held elections with so many areas being contested at the same time.