Indonesia polls close, ex-general Subianto leading preliminary count

AFP , Wednesday 14 Feb 2024

Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto has a strong lead in the race for the presidency of Southeast Asia's biggest economy, preliminary results from pollsters showed Wednesday after polls closed.

Electoral workers show an empty box during the vote counting process for the presidential and legislative election at a Valentine s Day-themed polling station in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. AP


Official results are not due until next month but at least two independent pollsters who collected a sample of votes at polling stations for so-called "quick counts" -- previously shown to be reliable -- put Subianto on more than 55 percent, with nearly two-thirds of the vote sample counted.

Pollster Poltracking showed him at 59.77 percent in the preliminary count and Cyrus Network-CSIS had him at 58.62 percent.

Subianto needs to claim more than 50 percent of the overall vote and at least a fifth of ballots cast in over half the country's 38 provinces to secure the presidency over his rivals Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo.

"The hope is to win," Subianto told reporters earlier in the day before voting in the city of Bogor.

The 72-year-old -- a military chief during the Suharto dictatorship a generation ago -- was scheduled to address supporters on Wednesday evening as he bids to replace popular outgoing president Joko Widodo, who observers claim indirectly supported his campaign.

The vote across 800,000 polling stations began in the restive region of Papua and ended at 1:00 pm (0600 GMT) at the other end of the country in jungle-clad Sumatra, while some stations in Jakarta remained open after the capital was inundated by thunderstorms.

The "quick counts" have been used in previous elections by candidates to claim victory.

The 72-year-old was the clear favorite after a campaign mixing populist rhetoric with pledges to continue the policies of Widodo, who has presided over steady economic growth but reached the constitutional two-term limit.

Nearly 205 million people were eligible to vote in what is just the fifth presidential election since the end of Suharto's dictatorship in 1998.

A logistical feat in which more than 20,000 seats were up for grabs saw planes, helicopters, speedboats, and even cows used to cart ballots around the sprawling archipelago of nearly 280 million people.

In Papua's Timika city, officials inspected makeshift polling stations built from logs, metal sheets, and palm leaves as voters arrived to eye candidate lists.

In the capital Jakarta, a thunderstorm deluged 34 polling stations, according to the city's disaster mitigation agency.

General Election Commissioner Yulianto Sudrajat told AFP polling stations that opened late because of bad weather could stay open longer due to the "extenuating circumstances".

 'Decisive leader' 

Consultant Debbie Sianturi was one of those determined to vote earlier in the day.

"I want to have a leader that will continue the democracy," the 57-year-old said.

Another said Subianto's experience made him a popular candidate.

"He has a military background, so I think he will be a decisive leader," said Afhary Firnanda, a 28-year-old office worker in Jakarta.

Baswedan, seen as the favorite to challenge Subianto in that event, told supporters to help ensure a fair vote in the graft-riddled country, where voters dip their fingers in halal ink to prevent double voting.

"Come back to the voting station, monitor the vote count," he told reporters.

Pranowo, who entered election day last in the polls after once being the front-runner, said he hoped for a clean election.

"Today is the best time for all to return to the good path of democracy," he told reporters.

 Democracy Commitment 

Another key factor in Subianto's popularity is having Widodo's eldest son, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his vice presidential running mate, a move that has raised eyebrows.

In October, Indonesia's then-chief justice, who is Widodo's brother-in-law, changed the rules that had barred candidates below the age of 40 from running for high office.

Widodo enjoys near-record approval ratings after two terms of solid economic growth and relatively stable politics in the nation's young democracy.

But some legal experts and rights groups have accused Widodo of improperly using government funds to support Subianto, who has rejected accusations of impropriety.

Subianto was dismissed from the military in 1998 over accusations he ordered the abduction of democracy activists at the end of Suharto's rule, but he denied the accusations and was never charged.

He has since rehabilitated his image, thanks in part to a savvy social media campaign targeting Indonesia's youth that portrayed him as a "cuddly grandpa".

But rights groups have expressed alarm that he could roll back hard-won democratic freedoms, pointing to the alleged disappearances.

"We've been always worried about his commitment towards democracy," said Yoes Kenawas, a researcher at Jakarta-based Atma Jaya Catholic University.

"If he wins, those questions will always linger."

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