Indonesians vote tomorrow in parliamentary elections expected to set popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, a fresh face in a country dominated by an aging elite from former Indonesian dictator Suharto’s era, on course to become president in July.
Known universally by his nickname of “Jokowi,” 52-year-old Widodo has been a political phenomenon since he became the capital’s leader in 2012, and has topped presidential opinion polls for months. His common touch — he regularly visits Jakarta’s slums in his trademark checked shirt — has made him a hit with voters weary of the Suharto-era tycoons and ex-military figures who have long been the main political players in the world’s third-biggest democracy.
Polls predict Widodo’s main opposition Indonesian PDI-P will top the vote in the country’s fourth legislative elections since the end of Suharto’s three-decade rule in 1998.
However, voters are expected to punish the Democratic Party of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono following a string of high-profile corruption scandals and criticism that his government has been ineffective in recent years.
The legislative elections set the stage for presidential polls on July 9. A party or coalition needs 20 percent of the seats in the 560-seat lower house of parliament or 25 percent of the national vote to field a candidate.
While most parties fail to achieve this on their own and form coalitions, the PDI-P may get over the threshold after a recent boost in the polls following the party’s decision to nominate Widodo as its candidate for head of state.
“Jokowi is from a new generation of leaders in Indonesia. I hope he can bring change to Indonesia,” Andi Gani Nena Wea, head of national trade union confederation KSPSI, told reporters at a recent rally in Jakarta.
However, others are skeptical that a man who has just run the capital for a little over a year and has never had a role in national politics is ready to take charge of Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.
“At a symbolic level he would represent a breakthrough, but at a substantive level I highly doubt it,” said Jeffrey Winters, an Indonesia expert from Northwestern University in the US.
Widodo’s main rival for the presidency is seen as Prabowo Subianto, a former commander of the Indonesian army’s notorious special forces who has been accused of human rights abuses. He lags far behind the governor in the polls.
Whoever replaces Yudhoyono — due to step down after 10 years in power — will inherit tremendous challenges, with growth in Southeast Asia’s top economy slowing, religious intolerance on the rise and corruption endemic.
While the main focus is on the national election, Indonesians will also be voting for lawmakers in provincial and district legislatures on the same day.