187m voters to woo as poll season begins in Indonesia

  As campaigning kicks off, all eyes will be on the contest between President Joko Widodo (left) and his old rival, former general Prabowo Subianto.
As campaigning kicks off, all eyes will be on the contest between President Joko Widodo (left) and his old rival, former general Prabowo Subianto.PHOTOS: REUTERS

Duplicate names taken out ahead of 7-month campaign kicking off this weekend for April elections

Some 187.1 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in next April's presidential and legislative elections as campaigning for the long election season begins on Sunday.

The updated figure was tallied after the General Elections Commission (KPU) removed more than 670,000 names from a preliminary list of voters following complaints of duplicate names in its registry, it said in a report out on Sunday.

Previous local reports had quoted the Elections Supervisory Agency as saying it had found some 2.9 million duplicate names in the voter list, prompting the KPU to conduct a clean-up of the electoral roll for the April 17 polls.

As campaigning kicks off, all eyes will be on the contest between President Joko Widodo and his old rival, former general Prabowo Subianto.

Mr Joko has picked as his running mate Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, who has a doctorate in economics, while Mr Prabowo is going with Jakarta Deputy Governor and former businessman Sandiaga Uno.

The 2019 elections will be the first time that Indonesians will pick their president and MPs on the same day.

Following the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998, reforms to Indonesia's electoral system were introduced to prevent a single dominant party from holding power.

Under the law, political parties need at least 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament, or a 25 per cent share of the popular vote, before they can nominate a presidential candidate.

The ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) currently holds 109 seats, or just under 20 per cent of the seats.

Golkar, the second-largest party after the PDI-P, has 16 per cent. Gerindra, chaired by Mr Prabowo, has 13 per cent and the Democratic Party, 11 per cent.

 
 
 

Golkar is part of a nine-party coalition led by the PDI-P that is backing Mr Joko and Dr Ma'ruf, while the Democrats are one of the four parties that proposed the Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket.

Observers have said that while the President remains ahead in popularity polls, rising religiosity could threaten his re-election bid.

They point to last year's election for Jakarta governor, when the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama lost to Gerindra-backed Anies Baswedan in a bitter campaign marred by sectarian discord.

Basuki was later jailed for blasphemy.

Voting patterns, however, may change with the introduction of new parties and younger voters.

Almost half of the voters across the country will be 35 years old or younger come Polling Day.

Like many experts, Padjadjaran University political analyst Idil Akbar believes that winning the millennial vote will be a priority for Mr Joko and Mr Prabowo, particularly in Java, Indonesia's most populous region.

"It is incredible, (millennials) make up around 31 per cent of voters in Java, and if we talk about West Java, it is about 35 per cent," he said.

The seven-month campaign is expected to kick off with a bang this weekend, with both presidential and legislative candidates set to hit the ground running.

Many Indonesians also look forward to the debates which are likely to take place later this year.

Hot-button topics include the economy and other local bread-and-butter issues.

Mr Joko has struggled to deliver on his promise of 7 per cent growth when he defeated Mr Prabowo in 2014, although the economy has been growing at a steady 5 per cent each year since he took office.

Amid the global uncertainty, the Indonesian rupiah has depreciated to its lowest level since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. It is down about 9 per cent against the US dollar this year, making it the second-worst performing Asian currency after India's rupee.

Mr Joko's rivals have already fired the first salvo, taking aim at his administration's economic policies and expressing concerns over the weak rupiah .

In a joint statement on Sept 8, Mr Prabowo and Mr Sandiaga said that the "endless weakening" of the rupiah is a burden on Indonesia's economy and vulnerable Indonesians.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2018, with the headline '187m voters to woo as poll season begins in Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe