Indonesians are voting in the tightest and most divisive presidential election since the downfall of dictator Suharto, pitting Jakarta governor Joko Widodo against Prabowo Subianto, a former general with a chequered human rights record. After a bitterly fought campaign that saw long-time favourite Widodo’s lead shrink dramatically, voters in the world’s third-biggest democracy must choose between two starkly different candidates. A former furniture exporter from a humble background, Widodo is the first serious presidential contender without links to the authoritarian past, who is seen as likely to usher in a new style of leadership and consolidate democracy.
Prabowo, a former son-in-law of Suharto who has admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists before the strongman’s downfall in 1998, has won support with promises of firm leadership in a country where many yearn for a strong figurehead.
But critics fear he may shift Indonesia back towards authoritarian rule. “In terms of Indonesia’s democratic journey, this is potentially a very important juncture,” said Tobias Basuki, an analyst from the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Most polling stations in the country’s easternmost province of Papua opened at 7am (2200 GMT Tuesday) as scheduled, but days of heavy rain and wind have left dozens of remote areas awaiting ballot boxes and papers.
Katharina Utomo, 38, was the first to vote at a small polling station in Papua, weary-eyed from watching a World Cup match in the early hours.