JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesians voted Wednesday for their next president, and unofficial results showed a narrow victory for former furniture maker Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Prabowo Subianto, a former general, was also claiming victory, but official results won’t be known for two weeks. Here are five things to know about Indonesia and the election:
Prabowo Subianto, 62, of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, was a general in the Suharto regime and the late dictator’s former son-in-law. His past, including ordering the kidnappings of pro-democracy activists prior to Suharto’s fall in 1998, has not gone unnoticed. But he surged in late polling after running an effective ground campaign and picking up notable endorsements, including from Islamic-based parties, hard-line Islamic groups and outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s political party. Subianto is known for his thundering campaign speeches, a penchant for luxury cars and having trotted up to one campaign rally on an expensive horse.
Former Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, 53, is the first candidate in an Indonesian direct presidential election with no connection to Suharto’s three-decade regime and its excesses. Popularly nicknamed “Jokowi,” Widodo appeals to voters who see him as a common man untainted by the often-corrupt military and business elite that has run Indonesia for decades. He likes to wear sneakers and casual plaid shirts, listen to heavy metal music and make impromptu visits to the slums.
Indonesia stretches across some 17,000 islands populated by 240 million people. It is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a member of the G-20, and has strong economic ties throughout Asia, the Middle East and the West. It also is a founding member of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asia Nations. Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, was an initiator of the Non-Aligned Movement, which now has 120 members and 17 observer countries.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country, but has a secular government and a reputation as a tolerant, pluralist society that respects freedom of expression. Most Indonesians practice a moderate form of Islam, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years. The conservative province of Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, is the only region in the country that applies a version of Sharia Islamic law for Muslims.
A former Dutch colony, Indonesia was ruled by the authoritarian Gen. Suharto from 1966 to 1998 after crushing the Communist Party and overseeing a U.S.-backed purge of an estimated half million communists. This is the country’s third direct presidential election since then. The world’s third-largest democracy requires half a million voting booths to conduct the polls. Outgoing President Yudhoyono is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, but his Democratic Party endorsed Subianto about two weeks before Wednesday’s election. The new president will be the country’s seventh leader.