Indonesia polls: Jokowi expresses confidence as both candidates cast votes

Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is surrounded by supporters and members of the media after casting his vote at a polling station in Jakarta on July 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is surrounded by supporters and members of the media after casting his vote at a polling station in Jakarta on July 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesians voted on Wednesday in a presidential election that has turned into a closely fought contest between former general Prabowo Subianto against Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who have been running neck-and-neck in opinion polls.

"This is a good day for the Indonesian nation and the Indonesian people. I'm very confident," the media quoted Mr Joko as saying when he cast his vote in the capital, wearing a traditional batik print shirt and accompanied by his wife.

His rival Mr Prabowo, wearing a white safari shirt and the national black "peci" hat and looking equally confident, said: "We respect the democratic process and, of course, we should conduct a good and correct process and show respect."

Later, in an interview at his residence in Bogor, Mr Prabowo described his campaign, where he had the opportunity to go around Indonesia, as "a learning journey".

"I feel people's desire for a better life. I have seen the scene at my polling station earlier, people have come to see me, they are enthusiastic. Everywhere I go, I see hope and people's expectations of me are high."

He expressed hope that the voting process takes place "safely, smoothly and peacefully", and said he will respect the decision of the people, whoever wins the election.

"I just voted for Prabowo because I've been promised by his party they will pay for my children's education. I personally like him because he is the former son-in-law of Suharto," said housewife Titi Rahayati, 49, in the West Java city of Tasikmalaya.

West Java, the most populous province with a fifth of the total vote, could decide the presidential race. It is home to a highly conservative brand of Islam and is the country's second-largest rice producer.

Polls ahead of the election showed that Mr Prabowo, who has the backing of three major Islamic-based parties, leads in the province.

The chairman of Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Ms Megawati SoekarnoputrI, appealed to voters across Indonesia to help guard the counting of votes for the presidential election to leave no room for vote rigging.

"We are in the process of deciding our leader for the next five years. Voters have the right to monitor and ensure the election result reflects their true aspirations," Ms Megawati told reporters outside her private residence in South Jakarta.

"I appeal to voters to guard your votes from the polling station level through district level before the votes are delivered to the central system."

"I appeal to the election authority to not manipulate vote results at the final counting stage like what has happened in the past."

With the race too close too call, there have been concerns of violence once the result is known, a worry alluded to by outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he urged both sides to accept the result.

Private quick counts, which have been reliable in the past, are expected to give a result by early evening. The official result will be announced about two weeks later.

It has been the dirtiest and most confrontational campaign in memory in a country which traditionally holds up the value of consensus politics.

Voting began in distant eastern islands and will finish two time zones away in the densely populated western islands . There were no early reports of violence.

There has been growing frustration over the way the world's third largest democracy has been governed with corruption rampant and economic growth slowing.

It is a sentiment both candidates have addressed in their campaigns, though they offer starkly different personalities.

Mr Joko, 53 and born into poverty, has stormed his way to the top rungs of leadership with a clean image and a reputation for competence in local government, a reversal of the autocracy, corruption and power politics that have weighed down South-east Asia's biggest economy for decades.

Considered Indonesia's most popular politician, his once insurmountable lead in opinion polls has all but disappeared in recent weeks in the face of smear campaigns and expensive and intensely focused electioneering by Mr Prabowo.

Mr Prabowo, 62, is running on promise of strong, tough leadership, playing up his military past and invoking memories of Indonesia's post-colonial and fiercely nationalist first president Sukarno, who ruled from 1945-1967.

Mr Prabowo's high-profile military career, during which he rose speedily through the ranks, unravelled quickly after the 1998 fall of long-serving autocrat Suharto, his former father-in-law.

Mr Prabowo was discharged from the army for breaking the chain of command and ordering troops to arrest activists. He was never investigated on any criminal charge and has consistently denied wrongdoing.

The election commission expects a high turnout. Of 190 million eligible voters, around 11 per cent will be punching the ballot for the first time. Close to a third are under 30.

A Prabowo win is expected to weaken markets due to concerns he will introduce protectionist policies in the financial and farm sectors, and launch big debt-funded spending projects. "I hope the new leader will be better than the past and doesn't make empty promises," said Mr Nunu, 54, in Menteng. "In the past they never fulfilled any promises."

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