Tight Indonesian presidential election expected to attract record number of voters

Jakarta: A record turnout is expected in the Indonesian presidential election today as the race goes down to the wire between two starkly different candidates.

The contest between Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, 53, known as Jokowi, and former army general Prabowo Subianto, 62, has been the hardest fought and will be the closest-run of three direct presidential elections so far in Indonesia’s democratic era.

Mr Prabowo, a former son-in-law of autocrat Suharto, has campaigned on an image of toughness and resolution.

Mr Joko, a furniture manufacturer raised on a river bank who entered politics as a provincial mayor, has campaigned as a clean, new-generation candidate with a can-do attitude.

Two recent credible polls show Mr Joko 2.7 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively ahead of his rival at the end of a ferocious and sometimes dirty campaign.

Large turnouts in pre-poll voting stations in foreign countries with big Indonesian populations suggest the tight race has made people more engaged by this election than either of the previous two direct presidential polls.

The 2004 election saw about 77 per cent of eligible voters turn out, and in 2009 it was 71 per cent. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is not eligible to recontest this year, won both those elections in landslides.

Former Australian diplomat and long-time election observer Kevin Evans believes the nature of this election means the turnout today could be up to 80 per cent.

“It’s been an election that’s really energised the electorate partly because one candidate in particular [Prabowo] is extremely controversial, and a very polarising figure,” Mr Evans said.

More than 190 million Indonesians are registered to vote and, in a far flung archipelago with tens of thousands of sometimes remote villages, the logistics of running a national vote are daunting.

In Hong Kong, where about 150,000 Indonesian people work mainly as household staff, thousands were denied the opportunity to vote on Sunday because of what local organisers say was an unprecedented surge of interest.

A rally of hundreds of migrant workers protested against the exclusion, some saying they were denied by a conspiracy because they wanted to vote for Mr Joko. In California, Indonesian expatriates also had to wait in long queues.

There has been no campaigning for the past three days as candidates are restricted by “quiet period” from making any final comment to their voters yesterday. Mr Joko returned on Tuesday from a quick Hajj trip to Mecca to pray for victory.

After their final debate on Saturday night, Mr Joko said he wanted to “bring about change, breakthroughs and concrete measures” to address the myriad problems facing Indonesia.

Mr Prabowo emphasised the desire for Indonesia to have “integrity and sovereignty,” and to “build a dignified nation which can stand on its own two feet”.

Polling stations close at 2pm local time (5pm AEST) and, though official results are not likely to be known for weeks, previously reliable quick-count and exit polling data is likely to be available within hours of the end of voting.

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