Voters in Indonesia, world's 3rd largest democracy, prepare to elect a new president
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Voters in the world's third-largest democracy head to the polls tomorrow to elect a new president. Indonesia is also Southeast Asia's largest economy and the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Jakarta on what's at stake.
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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: On Sunday, supporters packed the Jakarta Stadium to rally for front-runners Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming, who is mayor of Surakarta city and the son of outgoing President Joko Widodo. Polls show Prabowo with a commanding lead over his rivals, who were both provincial governors. If no candidate gets an absolute majority, there will be a runoff vote in June. This is Indonesia's youngest electorate ever. More than half of its 204 million eligible voters were born after 1980. One of them is first-time voter and Islamic school student Ulfa Nurmaulida.
ULFA NURMAULIDA: (Through interpreter) Mr. Prabowo is cuddly and kind and - sorry, I'm a bit nervous.
KUHN: She says she learns about Prabowo the same way many other young voters do.
NURMAULIDA: (Through interpreter) On social media like TikTok, YouTube and TV.
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KUHN: Prabowo's team has packaged him as a jovial, dancing grandpa whose smiling avatar adorns baby blue T-shirts. Erick Thohir is a Prabowo supporter and Indonesia's minister of state-owned enterprises. Prabowo was expected to continue President Joko Widodo's policies, and Thohir likes that.
ERICK THOHIR: I believe in stability and continuity. And if Indonesia not stable also in terms of the politics, I don't think good for the region and also for global geopolitics.
KUHN: Under Widodo - or Jokowi, as he's known - Indonesia's economy has grown at about 5% a year. His infrastructure building and poverty alleviation policies are popular. Jokowi beat Prabowo in 2014 and 2019 elections, but some supporters who once hailed Jokowi as a Democrat are angry because they believe he installed his 36-year-old son as vice presidential candidate. Political scientist Dewi Fortuna Anwar says Jokowi is tarnishing his own legacy.
DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: Two things still save Indonesia's position. First is that it has a vibrant civil society, and secondly, that the election has generally been free and fair.
KUHN: But Anwar says that evidence suggests that Jokowi is trying to tip this election.
ANWAR: So you have problems of co-optation and bribery. You have the problem of real intimidation to vote for a particular candidate. This reminds everyone, at least people who remember, of the New Order government.
KUHN: Many first-time voters were born after the 1966-to-1998 New Order government of General Suharto. Many older voters, though, do remember.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Non-English language spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).
KUHN: Shouts for reformasi, or reform, go up from students and teachers at Jakarta's Trisakti University. They're gathered by a monument to four students who called for political reform in 1998 and were shot to death by soldiers. Usman Hamid was a Trisakti student then, he's with Amnesty International now.
USMAN HAMID: So this election is an existential moment for the pro-democracy and human rights movement in Indonesia.
KUHN: Indonesia's military sacked Prabowo in 1998 for his role in human rights abuses, including during Indonesia's U.S.-backed invasion of East Timor between 1975 and 1999. Usman Hamid says Prabowo was also implicated in the Trisakti shootings which eventually led to Suharto's downfall.
HAMID: The fact that Indonesia is going to have someone implicated in human rights abuses as the next president is a reflection of Indonesian failure in prosecuting those responsible for crimes committed in the past.
KUHN: Hamid notes that Indonesia is hardly the only country prone to democratic backsliding and authoritarian rulers making a comeback.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jakarta.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "FLOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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