Indonesia's presidential race and Asean

Indonesia's presidential race and Asean
Showdown: Presidential debate moderator Sudharto P. Hadi (center) is flanked by presidential candidates and their running mates Hatta Rajasa (left) and Prabowo Subianto (second left) and Joko Widodo (second right) and Jusuf Kalla at their fifth and final debate at the Bidakara Hotel in Tebet, South Jakarta.

The first candidate is an "ex-war commander" with a chequered history of rights abuses, Prabowo Subianto.

The second is Joko Widodo or Jokowi, the charismatic governor of Jakarta with an untested record in national affairs.

At this moment, who will emerge a decisive winner nobody really knows.

This known-unknown scenario has kept the world's third largest democracy hanging in the balance and other less democratic ASEAN members watching without blinking an eye.

Until last weekend, most published polls placed Jokowi ahead of Prabowo by a narrow margin - something which Indonesian political pundits thought could produce a surprise on polling day. Prabowo's popularity has gone up in recent weeks since the Jokowi "fever" broke out last August.

During the general election in May, most polls predicted the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle or PDI-D would win at least 25 per cent of the votes, but that didn't happen.

It got less than 20 per cent. This time, the poll forecasts must not be taken seriously - just a rough indicator of public mood. In these coming few days, what happens on the ground

and in the cyber world of social media could be a decisive factor.

As in other developing countries, a highly contested election could easily lead to money politics as a means to ensure votes.

Indonesian politics has not been devoid of vote-buying especially in kampong areas. An Indonesian journalist joked that the only thing flowing without interruption in his country today was the money trail.

Indonesian politics today is so divisive due to the fierce presidential race with only two candidates contesting - Prabowo or Jokowi. In the past, more candidates contested and in the last presidential election there was a clear winner.

So the campaign energy was diverse, not concentrating so intensely on personalities as in the current situation.

To win this week, all types of smear tactics have been adopted involving race, religion and family backgrounds. The worst were racist comments of Jokowi's background -claiming him to be a Singaporean of Chinese descent - and the appointment of Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama as acting governor.

In the world's largest Muslim nation, it is odd that being a Muslim or not can be used as a political benchmark, so is being a non-Javanese.

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