Indonesia’s parliamentary vote likely to set Jakarta governor on course for presidency

Buoyed by the popularity of Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, exit polling shows PDI-P ahead

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 11:03pm

Indonesians went to the polls yesterday in legislative elections expected to strengthen the main opposition and move its popular presidential candidate, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, closer to becoming the country's next leader.

Millions streamed to polling stations across the huge archipelago, which spans three time zones from remote and mountainous Papua in the east to the crowded main island of Java and to Sumatra in the west.

"We hope for representatives who care about our interests rather than their own. I've picked the most honest and fair candidates," voter Ilyas Hasan, 43, said in Jayapura, the capital of deeply poor Papua province.

About 186 million people are eligible to vote for some 230,000 candidates competing for about 20,000 seats in national and regional legislatures, but the most important is the vote for the national legislature's lower house.

The polls will also determine who can run in presidential elections in July and all eyes are on front runner Widodo and his main opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), expected to win the biggest share of the vote.

"I'm very confident my party will do very well," said the governor, 52, smiling broadly after voting near his official residence in Jakarta, as he was mobbed by a scrum of about 200 journalists.

One early exit poll, issued by CSIS-Cyrus, showed the PDI-P with 19.36 per cent of the popular vote, in first place but slightly lower than surveys had predicted. Official results will be released in early May.

Known by his nickname "Jokowi", the governor is a fresh face in the world's third-biggest democracy, which has long been dominated by aloof former military figures and tycoons dating back to the three-decade rule of dictator Suharto.

The former furniture business owner has been a political phenomenon since his meteoric rise to the capital's top job in 2012. His common touch - he regularly visits Jakarta's slums in his trademark checked shirt - has won him a huge following.

Voters are expected to punish President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ruling Democratic Party, with polls putting it fourth after a string of corruption scandals. It is currently the biggest party in the legislature.

The five Islamic parties which have fielded candidates in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country are heading for their worst ever showing, polls indicate, as people stop voting on purely religious grounds.

A party or coalition of parties needs 20 per cent of seats in the 560-seat lower house of parliament or 25 percent of the national vote to field a presidential candidate.

The PDI-P is the only one out of 12 parties running nationwide seen as having a chance of achieving this on its own. Others will have to form coalitions to get over the threshold.

Widodo will face formidable opponents for the presidency. His main rival is seen as Prabowo Subianto, a former commander of the army's notorious special forces, although he lags far behind the governor in the polls.