Just how far Indonesia has come along a democratic trajectory since the Suharto dictatorship was deposed 16 years ago has been demonstrated in the election for a new president. Voting takes place tomorrow. And the vibrancy, freedom and competitiveness of the campaign to elect a successor to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have done the Islamic world’s largest democracy great credit. Polls show the outcome is too close to call, reflecting how hard-fought the contest has been to win support among 170 million voters. The campaign, which has been commendably free from violence, has been fought almost entirely on secular rather than religious issues. Both candidates, Joko Widodo, 53, and Prabowo Subianto, 62, have shown themselves well equipped to take over the leadership of our most important neighbour. Mr Widodo, known as “Jokowi”, is the populist Jakarta governor with a reputation for incorruptibility and good municipal government. He is a cleanskin in what Transparency International rates as one of the world’s most corrupt nations (114th out of 177). Mr Subianto, a tough-talking former army general and commander of the notorious Kopassus special forces, was part of the Suharto establishment. He was married to the former dictator’s daughter.
Both candidates have significant political baggage. Mr Widodo, despite his appeal as a modest man unencumbered by links to Indonesia’s authoritarian past, has seen the seemingly unassailable 25-point lead he enjoyed frittered away. His performance during the campaign has reflected poorly on his political acumen and raised questions about his ability to govern as an “outsider” in the unforgiving cut and thrust of national politics.
Mr Subianto, whose personal fortune totals $160 million, is a nationalist and a controversial figure whose main support lies among urban middle and upper class voters looking for strong leadership. His reputation was tarnished by allegations of human rights abuses during his military career in East Timor and in putting down anti-Suharto protests. Dr Yudhoyono, although he is backing Mr Subianto, was a member of a seven-general panel that recommended Mr Subianto’s discharge from the army in 1998 for ordering the kidnapping of nine student protesters. The outgoing leader’s backing hopefully indicates Mr Subianto has changed. During the campaign, he caused concern by questioning whether direct elections for the president were compatible with Indonesian culture, but he has since reaffirmed there can be no going back “to any form of undemocratic system … it’s way past us … our people are already comfortable with democracy”. Suspicions about him remain, however. The influential Jakarta Post became the first mainstream media outlet to publicly endorse a candidate when it supported Mr Widodo. It referred to “one candidate (who) offers a break from the past, (and) the other (who) romanticises the Suharto era”.
Full Article: Indonesia’s robust election race | The Australian.