Muslim-majority Indonesia set for polls

Most polls show incumbent Indonesian President Joko Widodo holds a double-digit lead over main rival Prabowo Subianto, a former general. (AP)
Updated 15 April 2019
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Muslim-majority Indonesia set for polls

  • Indonesia has more than 190 million voters and 245,000 candidates vying for the presidency, parliament and local positions
  • Most polls show the incumbent Joko Widodo holding a double-digit lead over Prabowo Subianto, a former general

JAKARTA: Dipping their fingers in halal ink to prevent double voting, Indonesians cast their ballots Wednesday in a bitterly contested presidential election, with the main rival to incumbent Joko Widodo already threatening to challenge the result over voter-fraud claims.
The Muslim-majority nation’s biggest-ever polls — with more than 190 million voters and 245,000 candidates vying for the presidency, parliament and local positions — is largely a referendum on Widodo’s infrastructure-driven bid to rev up Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
But, looming in the background, two decades of democratic gains are at risk of being eroded, analysts said, as the military creeps back into civilian life under Widodo, and his trailing rival Prabowo Subianto, a former general, eyes reforms that harken back to the Suharto dictatorship.
If he loses, Subianto’s camp has already warned it will challenge the results over voter-list irregularities.
“It’s high stakes in this election,” said Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We simply don’t know what (Subianto) would do if he won and we don’t know if the institutional constraints in place would contain him.”
Voting starts at 7:00 am local time Wednesday (2200 GMT Tuesday) in easternmost Papua and ends at 1:00 p.m. at the other end of the country in Sumatra.
Ballots will be cast at more than 800,000 polling booths across the volcano-dotted country, from the tip of jungle-clad Sumatra and heavily populated Java island to beach paradise Bali and far-flung Sumbawa.
Voters will punch holes in ballots — to make clear their candidate choice — and then dip a finger in Muslim-approved halal ink, a measure to prevent double-voting in a graft-riddled country where ballot buying is rife.
A series of so-called “quick counts” are expected to give a reliable indication of the presidential winner later Wednesday. Official results are not expected until May.
Most polls show the 57-year-old Widodo holding a double-digit lead over Subianto, 67, setting up a repeat of their 2014 contest, which Widodo won despite an unsuccessful court challenge over his narrow victory.
The race has been punctuated by bitter mudslinging between the two camps, religion-driven identity politics and a slew of fake news online that threatens to sway millions of undecided voters.
Widodo campaigned on his ambitious drive to build roads, airports and other infrastructure, including Jakarta’s first mass-rapid-transit system.
But his rights record has been criticized owing to an uptick in discriminatory attacks on religious and other minorities, including a small LGBT community, as Islamic hard-liners become more vocal in public life.
“(Widodo) has chosen pragmatism over principle on issues of Islamism and pluralism,” said Dave McRae, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute.
Widodo, a practicing Muslim, blunted criticism that he was anti-Islam by appointing influential cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.
But victory for Widodo and Amin — known for his disparaging views toward minorities — could be the latest knock to Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam.
“There is a longstanding track record of very conservative views,” Kevin O’Rourke, an Indonesia-based political risk analyst, said of Amin.
“It’s inevitable that will affect policy making.”
Subianto — joined by running mate Sandiaga Uno, a 49-year-old wealthy financier — has run on a fiery nationalist ticket.
He courted Islamic hard-liners, promised a boost to military and defense spending and, taking a page from US President Donald Trump, vowed to put “Indonesia first” as he pledged to review billions of dollars in Chinese investment.
Subianto’s presidential ambitions have long been dogged by strong ties to the Suharto family and a checquered past.
He ordered the abduction of democracy activists as the authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998, and was accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.
Widodo’s own cabinet is stuffed with Suharto-era figures, and he raised eyebrows by agreeing to give civilian government jobs to military brass.
But “there is no grand design for Jokowi to bring back military rule,” Laksmana said.
Subianto, however, is a military man keen to roll back reforms that ushered in direct presidential elections, analysts said.
That has raised questions about what an upset victory for the retired general could mean for a system that is supported by most Indonesians.
“Democracy itself would be very much at stake,” O’Rourke said.
“This is a low probability scenario, but one with very high impact.”
Many Indonesians just want a peaceful power transition — regardless of the winner.
“I hope there’s no hostility,” said 53-year-old Untung Sri Rejeki.
“No matter who becomes our next president.”


US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

Updated 19 April 2019
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US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

  • A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend
  • The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group

KABUL: The US envoy for peace in Afghanistan expressed disappointment on Friday after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed some of the deep divisions hampering efforts to end the war.
A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend. The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity.
“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, said on Twitter. “I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans.”
The collapse of the meeting before it had even started, described as a “fiasco” by one senior Western official, laid bare the tensions that have hampered moves toward opening formal peace negotiations.
Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-born diplomat, has held a series of meetings with Taliban representatives but the insurgents have so far refused to talk to the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.
The Doha meeting was intended to prepare the ground for possible future talks by building familiarity among Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan state created after the US-led campaign that toppled the Taliban government in 2001. A similar encounter was held in Moscow in February.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office blamed Qatari authorities for the cancelation, saying they had authorized a list of participants that differed from the one proposed by Kabul, “which meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans.”
“This act is not acceptable for the people of Afghanistan,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Sultan Barakat, director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Qatar, which had been facilitating the meeting, said there was no disagreement about the agenda.
“Rather, there is insufficient agreement around participation and representation to enable the conference to be a success,” he tweeted.
Preparations had already been undermined by disagreements on the government side about who should attend, as well as by suspicions among rival politicians ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September.
The Taliban derided the agreed list of 250 participants as a “wedding party.” Some senior opposition figures who had been included refused to attend.
The Taliban also objected to Ghani’s comments to a meeting of delegates that they would be representing the Afghan nation and the Afghan government, a statement that went against the insurgents’ refusal to deal with the Kabul administration.