Indonesia votes: 6 things to know about the April 17 polls

04-Apr-2019 Intellasia | Straits Times | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Indonesians will head to the polls on April 17 to vote for their president and members of Parliament. But all eyes will be on incumbent Joko Widodo as he squares off once more against former army general Prabowo Subianto in what is expected to be a tight rematch of the last presidential race in 2014.

For Joko, the upcoming election will be a referendum on his presidency while Prabowo is hoping that he will be third time lucky, having also contested as a vice-presidential candidate in 2009.

More than 192 million people are eligible to vote, and about 70 million of them are first-time voters between the ages of 16 and 20.

The Straits Times is reporting from across the vast archipelagic state to bring stories from the campaign trail.

Here’s what you need to know about the Indonesian elections:


There are a total of 711 seats at stake in Indonesia’s two-house People’s Consultative Assembly, or Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat (MPR) 575 are seats in the People’s Representative Council (DPR) while 136 are in the Regional Representative Council (DPD).

Also open for contention are more than 19,500 seats in over 2,000 regional, municipal and regency legislative council electoral districts.

But the biggest prize is the presidency, where Joko is seeking to win a second five-year term while Prabowo who has made previous bids for the presidency and vice-presidency hopes to be elected Indonesia’s eighth head of state.

At the polling station, each voter will pick officials at five levels of political office:

– president and vice-president

– a member of the DPR

– a member of the DPD

– a member of the Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD Provinsi)

– a member of the City/District Legislative Council (DPRD Kota/Kabupaten)


The 2019 presidential race is set to be a rematch between the incumbent, Joko Widodo, and his old rival, Prabowo Subianto. Joko won 53.15 per cent to Prabowo’s 46.85 per cent of the votes in the 2014 polls.

The 57-year-old President, or Jokowi as he is commonly called, is the son of a wood-seller from Central Java.

He graduated from one of the country’s top universities, Gadjah Mada, in 1985 and later went on to set up a business supplying wood flooring before settling into manufacturing furniture.

His political career started when he was elected mayor of Solo, in Central Java, in 2005. In 2012, he was elected governor of Jakarta.

His running mate is Dr Ma’ruf Amin, 76, one of the most influential Muslim figures in Indonesia.

Dr Ma’ruf chairs the Indonesian Ulama Council the country’s top Islamic clerical body and was formerly supreme leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia.

Prabowo, 67, a former Indonesian special forces commander, has deep ties to the business and political elite. His father was a minister and central bank chief, and he was previously married to one of the daughters of former president Suharto.

Prabowo has built up a base among voters who see him as a firm, decisive leader, his human rights record notwithstanding.

His running mate is former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno. The 49-year-old businessperson-turned-politician has proved popular among women, young people and voters with higher education.


Worries over economic stability and costs of living look set to dominate this election.

Joko’s opponents have taken aim at the President’s struggle to live up to the economic promises of his 2014 campaign. He had promised 7 per cent economic growth and has vowed once more in his current campaign to help Indonesia achieve stronger economic growth.

The candidates’ religious beliefs are also a major talking point, with the polls taking place against the backdrop of growing religiosity and intolerance.

Joko’s decision to pick a senior Islamic cleric as his running mate was seen as an attempt to burnish his religious credentials.

Prabowo, meanwhile, is known for his close ties to conservative Muslims and has the support of Islamic parties such as the Prosperous Justice Party.

As campaigning heats up, fake news is a concern, as the country has a high mobile penetration rate and dismal levels of digital literacy.


Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy after the United States and India, but the 2019 presidential race will be only the fourth time the South-east Asian giant is holding elections to pick its head of state.

Direct elections were part of the decentralisation measures that came about after the fall of strongman Suharto’s New Order regime in 1998. The system has been credited with the rise of political outliers unconnected to elites, such as Joko.

The first direct presidential election took place in 2004, and the first round of elections across Indonesia for all governors, mayors and district heads was completed in 2008.

Elections for local leaders were scrapped for a few months when in September 2014, the country’s outgoing Parliament decided that local officials would be appointed instead of elected. Critics saw this as a move to consolidate power among the elite.

Joko then said the decision which was pushed by Prabowo’s coalition, whose members said that direct elections were expensive and more prone to producing corrupt leaders was a “big step back… for democracy”.

But in January 2015, a new Parliament overturned this decision, voting instead to retain the elections Bill that ensured direct elections for regional governors and mayors.


The results of the elections for parliamentary seats will determine which political parties can nominate candidates to contest the 2024 presidential election.

Under the election law passed in 2017, a party or coalition of parties needs to have at least 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament, or a minimum 25 per cent share of the popular vote, before they can nominate a presidential candidate.

Today, only the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) comes close to the threshold with 109 out of 560 seats, or just under 20 per cent of the House. Close behind is historical powerhouse Golkar now the second-largest party which has 16 per cent, and Prabowo’s Gerindra party, which has 13 per cent.

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Multi-party alliances have therefore been crucial.

Joko has the endorsement of nine parties, PDI-P and Golkar.

Backing Prabowo is a coalition of five parties including his party Gerindra and the Democratic Party, which was founded by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A total of 16 parties will be participating in the legislative election at a national level.


September 23, 2018

Official kick-off of the election campaign.

January 17, 2019

First debate for the Presidential Election: Widodo and Dr Ma’ruf v Prabowo and Sandiaga on law, human rights, terrorism and corruption.

February 17, 2019

Second debate for the Presidential Election: Widodo v Prabowo on infrastructure, energy, food, natural resources and the environment.

March 17, 2019

Third debate for the Presidential Election: Dr Ma’ruf v Sandiaga on education, health, employment, social affairs and culture.

March 30, 2019

Fourth debate for the Presidential Election: Widodo v Prabowo on ideology, governance, international relations, and defence and security.

April 13, 2019

Fifth and final debate for the Presidential Election: Widodo and Dr Ma’ruf v Prabowo and Sandiaga on the economy, social welfare, finance and investment, as well as trade and industry.

April 14 to 16, 2019

Cooling-off period.

April 17, 2019

Polling Day.

April 25 to May 22, 2019

Progressive release of the results of the general election.

October 1, 2019

Inauguration of lawmakers.

October 20, 2019

Inauguration of the President and vice-President.


Category: Indonesia

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