CAIRO – As Indonesia braces for electing its first new president in a decade, democracy has been put at stake in the world’s most populous Muslim nation amidst prospects of change and fears of reviving the old authoritarian order.
“If Jokowi gets elected, it would be a turning point for Indonesia and democracy,” Endy Bayuni, a senior editor at the Jakarta Post, told the Guardian on Sunday, July 6.
“A leader that is not tainted by the past and Suharto’s corrupt political culture.”
Heading to polling stations next Wednesday, July 9, Indonesian voters will be choosing between two main candidates, the anti-corruption outsider Joko Widodo and former general Prabowo Subianto.
Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, is considered the star of the elections after opinion polls suggested he will most certainly be the next president of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
The opposition leader, Jokowi, has stressed earlier that he aims to deduct the agricultural imports, attaining “self-sufficiency” in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Jokowi, the Democratic-Party of Struggle’s candidate, has sowed hopes among voters through his promises of a “new, clean leadership that consolidates democracy”.
His achievements while serving as the governor of Jakarta had added weight to his promises of change, granting him a reputation of clean governance and humility.
“From his time as governor, we can already see the ‘Jokowi effect’,” says the Jakarta-based film-maker and Jokowi supporter Joko Anwar.
“Just months after he became governor we could no longer bribe government officials because they were scared they would get ‘Jokowi-ed’.”
Urging Indonesians to vote for him, the enthusiastic candidate said last month that he wants to start a new political tradition, “where a president is not a political party leader, but its best man”.
Although Jokowi has emerged as Indonesia’s second leader over the past months, recent polls showed an increase in the percentage of the former general’s supporters.
While about 45% of Indonesians were found supporting Jokowi, Prabowo is backed by 38.7%, according to a new survey. Other polls showed much closer differences between the two candidates.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim state where Muslims make up 80% percent of the 220 million population.
Away from Jokowi’s promises of change and democracy, the former general Prabowo revived voters’ concerns of returning the old dictatorial order.
“Indonesia doesn’t need a strong leader,” says Christine Naomi, 56, on the sidelines of a recent Jokowi rally in Jakarta.
“All this time, Indonesia has always been led by generals. They are all incapable of bringing change.”
After the fall of the dictator Suharto who supported secularism and was against the strong influence of Islam in public life, in 1998, Islamic parties flourished in the Asian country.
Prabowo’s links to the old regime made him in the centre of rights abuse allegations, even banned from entering the US.
However, the former general’s supports refute the abuse allegations saying that he had done the right thing by obeying his commanders at that time.
“He had to defend the nation,” says a supporter, Tunggali.
“If his boss asked him to do something, he had to do it. It was not in his capacity to decide whether it violated human rights or not.” Others say the allegations are just gossip.
The major backers of the 62-year-old candidate are “his tycoon brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, along with most of the country’s TV stations”.
“I like Prabowo because he is assertive, disciplined and decisive,” says Dalim Tunggali, a 50-year-old contractor from east Jakarta.
“A nation is respected by other countries because of its leader. If the leader is assertive, we are going to be respected.”
As the election closes, the rhythm of smear campaign that targets both candidates soars.
While Jokowi was classified s Christian and ethnic Chinese, Prabowo was surrounded by several questions about his mental health.
“Every time, in any democracy, that a candidate has to spend time fending off rumours and allegations about their personal identity is time in which they are basically conceding the field,” observed Douglas Ramage, an analyst with the Bower Group.
For many Indonesians, who will observe the nations’ first handing of power from one elected leader to another, ousting the anti-corruption Jokowi is much easier than opposing the old-regime general, in case any of them came to power.
“Put it this way: if Jokowi becomes president and is not what we hope him to be, we can easily criticize him and bring him down,” says film-maker Joko Anwar.
“But if Prabowo becomes president, we are scared that might not be so easy. That what we worry about him is true.”
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