Indonesia starts election campaign with Jakarta governor Joko Widodo favourite to become new president
Popular Jakarta governor tipped to become new president with backing of main opposition party
Reuters in Jakarta
Indonesia's raucous election season kicked off yesterday with the promise of a fresh style of leadership in the world's third largest democracy, whose economic promise has been sapped by rampant graft, confusing policy and weak rule.
An uncertain election outlook changed on Friday when the main PDI-P opposition party named the popular governor of Jakarta as its candidate for July's presidential election. That lifted its chances of dominating the parliamentary election on April 9.
Opinion polls suggest the presidency is governor Joko Widodo's to lose. Joko's main rival is Prabowo Subianto, a retired general who was once married to former strongman Suharto's daughter and stands accused of a range of human rights abuses.
"He has to be the number-one favourite," said Keith Loveard, head of political risk analysis at Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting, of the Jakarta governor, who is popularly known as Jokowi.
"It's unlikely any candidate could get anywhere near him."
PDI-P is led by ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of first president Sukarno whose image, and the nationalist tone it implies, is a constant motif in party propaganda.
"The biggest challenge for Jokowi is that he's not his party's chairman," Airlangga Hartarto, a member of Golkar's central executive council, said. "If he becomes president he will need to go back to Ibu Megawati to get support; it could be tricky. That's the hard part. He has to have a vice-president who can liaise with other parties to get support."
This will only be Indonesia's third election since it became a democracy 16 years ago.
Indonesians will first choose a new parliament, and so decide which parties meet a threshold to field a candidate in the presidential election three months later.
Though close to 90 per cent of the population identifies itself as Muslim, none of the Islamic parties are expected to win a major chunk of the vote, including the current leading Muslim party, PKS, whose reputation has been hit hard by a highly publicised corruption scandal.
The ruling Democrat Party of outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has seen public support plummet after graft scandals claimed senior officials including the party's former chairman and a cabinet minister.
Critics say that while Yudhoyono brought stability to Indonesia, his nearly 10 years in power has been marked by indecision and at times confusing policy, with criticism that his government has not done enough to address high levels of poverty and mounting religious intolerance.
Indonesia's new president will lead a young nation high on ambition but low on education.
Voters appear captivated by Joko, who in just over a year of running the capital has become the new face of Indonesian politics, long dominated by authoritarian figures and their powerful, wealthy cliques.
Those figures still loom.
Both parties that polls say will dominate next month's election - PDI-P and the more pro-business Golkar - are clinging firmly to the legacies of their autocratic founders who led the vast former Dutch colony for its first five decades of independence.
And increasingly, Golkar is looking to the early economic successes of Suharto, the man who pushed Sukarno aside and went on to rule Indonesia for 32 years until 1998, when he was forced from office in the face of mass protests and what by then had turned into the near collapse of the economy.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
Indonesia's election year by the numbers
March 16 - Campaigning for the parliamentary election starts
April 9 - Parliamentary election
April 26 - Vote counting starts, until May 6
May 7 - Official result due
July 9 - Presidential election
July 26 - Winner due to be announced, if no run-off
September 9 - Presidential election run-off if no clear winner in the first round
September 26 - Winner due to be announced
October 20 - New president inaugurated
A party, or coalition of parties, must win at least 25 per cent of the national vote or 20 per cent of parliamentary seats to nominate a presidential candidate.
The candidate must win 50 per cent of the national vote and 20 per cent of the vote in more than half of the 34 provinces to be elected president.
If no one wins that many votes, a run-off is held between the two candidates with the most votes. The winner is decided by a simple majority.
There are 12 parties standing in the parliamentary election.
According to opinion polls, the parties expected to dominate are the Indonesian Democratic-Party Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar and Gerindra. PDI-P received a major boost on Friday when it named the hugely popular governor of Jakarta as its candidate for the presidential election. The current ruling Democrat Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to struggle to win votes in the double digits.
Registered voters: 186.5 million.
Of the total, 29 per cent are aged 17-29 years. Eleven per cent will vote for the first time.
Voter turnout in 2009 was 74 per cent.
For parliament, 560 seats are up for grabs, contested by 6,607 candidates.