April 9, 2014 – Indonesia’s main opposition party took an early lead Wednesday in parliamentary elections expected to bolster the presidential ambitions of its popular candidate, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was in first place with 19-20 per cent of the national vote, according to two unofficial tallies, putting it in first place but lower than recent surveys had predicted.
Golkar, the former party of dictator Suharto, was in second place with about 15 per cent, while the Gerindra party of ex-general Prabowo Subianto — also a presidential contender — was third with about 12 per cent.
Millions had earlier streamed to polling stations across the huge archipelago, which stretches across three time zones from remote and mountainous Papua in the east to the crowded main island of Java and to Sumatra in the west.
“We hope for representatives who care about our interests rather than their own. I’ve picked the most honest and fair candidates,” Ilyas Hasan, 43, said in Jayapura, the capital of deeply poor Papua province.
Some 186 million people were eligible to vote for around 230,000 candidates competing for about 20,000 seats in national and regional legislatures, although the most important vote is for the lower house of the national parliament.
Wednesday’s polls also determine who can run in presidential elections in July and all eyes are on frontrunner Widodo and the PDI-P, which has long been tipped to win the biggest share of the vote.
“I’m very confident my party will do very well,” said the 52-year-old governor, smiling broadly after voting near his official residence in Jakarta, as he was mobbed by a scrum of about 200 journalists.
An unofficial tally, known as a “quick count”, by pollster Indonesia Political Indicator put the PDI-P on 19.68 per cent of the national vote, with around 20 per cent of a sample of votes from some 2,000 polling stations counted.
A tally from pollster Indonesian Survey Circle gave the party around 19 per cent, with about 30 per cent of votes counted at some 2,000 polling stations.
Official results are not expected until early May.
Known by his nickname “Jokowi”, the governor is a fresh face in the world’s third-biggest democracy, which has long been dominated by aloof former military figures and tycoons dating back to Suharto’s three-decade rule.
The former furniture business owner has been a political phenomenon since his meteoric rise to the capital’s top job in 2012. His common touch — he regularly visits Jakarta’s slums in his trademark checked shirt — has won him a huge following.
Buoyed by his popularity, the PDI-P has long been ahead in opinion polls for the legislative elections, and the party extended its lead after nominating him for president last month.
Problems with voting in Papua, where officials said bad weather prevented planes transporting ballot boxes from reaching some mountainous districts, illustrated the huge logistical challenge of holding elections in an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.
However the elections appeared to have gone smoothly in most parts of the country, and polls closed at 1:00 pm without reports of other major disruptions to voting or violence.
The legislative elections are the fourth in Indonesia since the end of authoritarian rule under Suharto in 1998, and will decide who is eligible to stand in the presidential election on July 9.
A party or coalition of parties needs 20 per cent of seats in the 560-seat lower house of parliament or 25 per cent of the national vote to field a candidate.
The PDI-P is the only one out of 12 parties running nationwide seen as having a chance of achieving this on its own. Others will have to form coalitions to get over the threshold.
Widodo will face formidable opponents for the presidency. His main rival is seen as Prabowo Subianto, a former commander of the army’s notorious special forces, although he lags far behind the governor in the polls.
Whoever replaces President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — due to step down after 10 years in power — will inherit tremendous challenges, with economic growth in Southeast Asia’s top economy slowing, religious intolerance on the rise and corruption endemic.