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Millions of Indonesians vote for new president in one of world's biggest elections

Millions of Indonesians vote for new president in one of world's biggest elections

 


Jakarta, Indonesia — Millions of Indonesians elected a new president on Wednesday as the world's third-largest democracy aspires to become a global economic power, just over 25 years after emerging from a brutal authoritarian era.

Indonesia's current defense minister, accused of human rights atrocities as a former general, and two former governors are vying to succeed the still popular President Joko Widodo.

The widows' rise from a riverside slum to her country's presidency showed the dynamism of her Southeast Asian country's democracy in a region plagued by authoritarian regimes.

Voting in a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands spread across three time zones, with a population of 270 million, is a logistical nightmare, with blank ballot boxes and ballots brought in by donkey or on foot in some of the most remote locations.

Besides the presidency, around 20,000 national, provincial and district parliamentary positions would be contested by tens of thousands of candidates. Around 10,000 candidates from 18 political parties are targeting the 580 seats in national parliaments alone.

The presidency is contested by Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and two former provincial governors, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo.

Subianto, who is the favorite according to several independent surveys, chose Widodos' eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his vice-presidential running mate.

Subianto is the only candidate with ties to Suharto's 1967-1998 dictatorship, when he was a lieutenant general. A longtime commander of the Kopassus special forces, he was discharged for dishonor in 1998 after Kopassus soldiers kidnapped and tortured political opponents of Suharto, his father-in-law at the time.

Of the 22 activists kidnapped that year, 13 are still missing. Subianto was never tried, although several of his men were tried and found guilty.

Polls show Subianto, 72, well ahead of his two rivals, but perhaps not with the majority needed to avoid a runoff. If he is the oldest candidate, his running mate is the youngest: the mayor of Surakarta, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36 years old, son of Widodos.

Raka did not reach the legal minimum age of 40, but was allowed to run under an exception created by the Constitutional Court. The court was then headed by Widodos' brother-in-law, sparking criticism of the president for perceived favoritism.

Subianto has pledged to continue Widodos' economic development plan, which experts see as an attempt to capitalize on Widodos' popularity. But he faces strong opposition from human rights activists, who link him to torture and disappearances during the final years of the Suharto dictatorship.

Baswedan, a former head of an Islamic university, was governor of Jakarta until last year. A former Fulbright scholar, Baswedan had served as education and culture minister from 2014 to 2016, when Widodo removed him from the cabinet.

Baswedan opposes the plan signed by Widodos to move the Indonesian capital from Jakarta to Nusantara on the island of Borneo, about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away, which involves the construction of government buildings and housing at from scratch.

He said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that democracy in Indonesia was in decline, referring to Subianto's choice of Widodos' son as his running mate, and pledged to get the country back on track.

It means there is a decline in trust, it means our democracy is experiencing a decline in quality, it means many legal rules are being circumvented, he said.

Pranowo is the ruling party's candidate, but does not have Widodo's support. He served as a national lawmaker for the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party for 10 years before being elected in 2013 to the first of two terms as governor of Central Java.

While governor, he refused to allow Israel to participate in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup to be held in his province. FIFA then dropped Indonesia as host of the matches, sparking a backlash against Pranowo from soccer fans.

Israel and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, do not have diplomatic relations.

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