JAKARTA: Indonesia’s biggest opposition party was ahead in early legislative election tallies, as the nation voted for a new Parliament on Wednesday.
The initial counts showing the main opposition party ahead but less convincingly than expected, meaning it might have to make deals with other parties to nominate its candidate for president.
In another surprise, Islamic parties appeared to have won more support than predicted. Though Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, many analysts thought Islamic parties were losing their appeal because of graft scandals and the greater popularity of more pluralist parties.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, known as PDI-P, pulled in about 20 percent of the vote, according to early results. The party’s popular presidential pick, Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, is largely seen as a shoo-in for the top job, to be decided July 9.
Widodo, a former furniture producer, is a newcomer to national politics, but he is adored by legions of supporters who favor his simple style, humble background and willingness to reach out to the poor. He was topping opinion polls months before being officially nominated by his party in March.
Some 200,000 candidates from 12 parties were vying for nearly 20,000 slots in Wednesday’s elections, including 6,607 competing for the 560-seat House and 945 for regional representatives or the Senate. The rest were competing for provincial and local councils.
Preliminary quick count results conducted by the highly regarded Jakarta-based Indonesian Survey Circle, using random samples from 2,000 polling stations across the country’s 33 provinces, put the Golkar party in second place with around 15 percent of the vote, followed by the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, with 12 percent.
Parties need to secure 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives or 25 percent of the overall vote to nominate a presidential candidate. Otherwise, a coalition must be formed with one or more parties.
“Thank God, the people have chosen PDI-P as the winner,” Widodo said of his party, which is led by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and has been out of power for a decade.
“I think it’s not possible for PDI-P to work alone. We have to cooperate with those having the same platform, and PDI-P is widely open for such a coalition,” Widodo said.
Official results will be announced next month, but the early counts are generally considered reliable indicators of winners.
After three weeks of peaceful campaigning, nearly 187 million people in three time zones were eligible to cast ballots for members of national as well as local legislatures and representatives. The voting took place at more than half a million makeshift booths throughout the sprawling country, from the restive eastern province of Papua to the devout Muslim province of Aceh in the west.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His Democratic Party, which garnered around 10 percent in the quick count, has been ensnared in a spate of high-profile corruption scandals.
“Let’s honor the result of this election and be ready to accept new national leadership that will lead the nation to be better,” he said after voting, urging losing candidates to accept defeat gracefully.
Two other top presidential contenders include business tycoon Aburizal Bakrie of the Golkar Party and former general Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra.
Indonesia, a country of 240 million, is the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the United States, and the most populous Muslim nation. The 12 main parties are either secular nationalist or moderate based loosely on Islam. A recent survey showed support for Islamic parties had plunged.
There also are no left-wing groupings, and the once-formidable Indonesian Communist Party — which longtime strongman Suharto’s U.S.-backed dictatorship decimated in the 1960s — remains banned.
The ballots were transported on everything from warships and helicopters to motorbikes and horses across the archipelago, which spans 17,000 islands. The election marks only the fourth time Indonesians have had the opportunity to pick their leaders following three decades of brutal rule that ended when Suharto was overthrown in 1998.
“There is no political figure who deserves to get my vote but Jokowi,” said Titis Astrini, 29, casting her vote in Jakarta. “So for the first time, I will vote for his party.” She added that in the past she had always voted for Islamic-based parties because she was impressed with their commitment to create a clean government.
“But it has been proven that religious parties can also do wrong and be involved in corruption,” she said.
About 75 percent of voters went to the polls, up from 70 percent in 2009 elections, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Voter apathy has been a concern in a country plagued by cronyism and rampant corruption that continues to blight high-ranking members of political parties, but analysts credited the so-called “Jokowi effect” with helping to energize voters.
“Parliament is likely to be very fragmented because many parties have gotten a relatively big share of votes, and their bargaining power will be pretty much the same,” said Philips Vermonte, political analyst at Jakarta-based think-tank CSIS.
“This will have a big influence on the new president because he’ll have to pay attention to the situation in parliament and the many political players there.”
Party officials put on a brave face.
“Hopefully … PDI-P will able to meet the target of above 20 percent, so we can nominate Joko Widodo as presidential candidate,” said Puan Maharani, daughter of party chief Megawati Sukarnoputri.
The party needs 25 percent of the national vote, or 20 percent of seats in parliament, to nominate Jokowi on its own.
After 80 percent of vote results were compiled by CSIS from 2,000 polling booths across the world’s third largest democracy, PDI-P had 19 percent of the vote.
The quick count also showed that the five Islamic parties had won 32 percent of the vote, up from 29 percent for eight such parties contesting the 2009 election.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, has about 500,000 polling stations and more than 186 million registered voters.
The resource-rich country’s embrace of democracy since the downfall of former authoritarian leader Suharto 16 years ago has seen four different presidents and repeated change of the leading party.