Wednesday Briefing: Indonesia Is Voting Today

More than 100 million people are expected to vote.Credit…Adi Weda/EPA, via Shutterstock

Indonesia is heading to the polls

The world’s third-largest democracy is today selecting not only a new president, but also members of Parliament and local representatives.

The current president, Joko Widodo, appears to have made an alliance with Prabowo Subianto without explicitly endorsing him, and polls show Prabowo with a healthy lead. But for many, he is associated with Suharto, who ruled with an iron fist from the 1960s to the late 1990s. Prabowo was a general in Suharto’s army and was eventually discharged in 1998 for ordering the kidnappings of student activists.

Also running for president are Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta, and Ganjar Pranowo, who ran Central Java. Momentum has been building for Anies, who is running on a platform for change.

To get a clearer idea of what to watch for, I turned to Sui-Lee Wee, our Southeast Asia bureau chief, who is in Jakarta to cover the election.

What are the stakes of this election, both internationally and in Indonesia?

This election matters far beyond Indonesia’s borders. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and is often seen as a “swing state” in the contest for influence between the U.S. and China in Asia. Indonesia is also one of the world’s largest carbon emitters and a top global producer of coal, nickel and palm oil, so whoever wins the presidency could have a major influence on the supply chains of many international companies but, more important, the future of climate change.

Domestically, it marks the end of the 10-year term of the popular incumbent president Joko Widodo. He is leaving office with approval ratings of about 70 to 80 percent and this election is essentially a referendum on his legacy. He has transformed Indonesia into one of Southeast Asia’s biggest economic success stories but has also presided over democratic backsliding in the country. This time, voters will be casting a vote for continuity or change. Polls have suggested that they overwhelmingly want continuity.

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