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Indonesia’s defence minister vows to be leader for all as polls suggest election win

The Indonesian defence minister, Prabowo Subianto, a former general dogged by allegations of human rights abuses, has promised to be a leader for all Indonesians after unofficial figures showed he was on course to win the country’s presidential race.

More than 200 million people were eligible to vote on Wednesday in the world’s largest single-day election, a race to decide who should succeed the popular outgoing president, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, as well as future executive and legislative representatives at all administrative levels across the country.

Addressing supporters in the evening, Prabowo said: “This win shall be a win for Indonesian people,” as he promised to govern for everyone “whatever the ethnicity, whatever the province, whatever the religion, whatever their social background”. Prabowo added that there was a need to wait for an official result from election authorities.

Prabowo had about 59% of votes, according to three pollsters, based on ballots counted in a sample of voting stations nationwide. More than 84% of votes had been tallied by the three pollsters.

Counts by reputable outlets have proven to be accurate in previous elections. An official result is not expected until several weeks after the vote.

The results, if confirmed, will dismay human rights activists who point to Prabowo’s controversial military past, and who accuse Jokowi of using his clout as incumbent to boost Prabowo’s campaign. Prabowo has promised to continue Jokowi’s policies, and his running mate is the president’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Prabowo, a former special commander under the Suharto dictatorship, has undergone a rebrand over recent years, presenting himself as a grandpa figure known for his awkward dance moves at rallies. Such campaigning has endeared him to younger voters, who have little memory of the Suharto era.

On Wednesday evening, Prabowo danced again on stage while being showered in confetti.

His rivals, Anies Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor and academic, and Ganjar Pranowo, a former Central Java governor, had about 25.1% and 16% respectively, according to independent pollsters who are conducting “quick counts” at the close of voting.

Earlier, Anies and Ganjar urged the public to await the official result. The campaign teams of both candidates said they were investigating reports of electoral violations, calling it “structural, systematic and massive fraud”, but did not provide evidence.

To win in the first round, Prabowo must secure more than half the votes on Wednesday.

Composite of Indonesia’s presidential candidates Ganjar Pranowo (c), Prabowo Subianto (l) and Anies Baswedan
The presidential candidates, (from left) Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, speaking during the first presidential election debate in Jakarta on 12 December. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

The scale of Indonesia’s election is greater than any other one-day vote, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and is a huge logistical challenge. Ballot boxes have been delivered to more than 820,000 polling stations across the country, by boat, helicopter, ox-drawn carts and on foot.

This year’s vote will be shaped by young people, who make up more than 50% of eligible voters, and who have been heavily targeted by candidates through social media campaigns that have ranged from TikTok livestream Q&A sessions to concert ticket giveaways.

Immanuel Hutasoit, 21, a musical arts student in Jakarta, said the amount of information on social media in the run-up to the election had been overwhelming, and he was unsure of what to trust. “I search for additional information from other media to gain another perspective,” he said, adding that he was voting differently from his relatives.

Indonesia, which abandoned authoritarian rule just 26 years ago, typically has high turnouts on election day, which is a national holiday and is known in the country as Pesta Demokrasi, or Democratic Party.

This year’s election has been marked by concerns that democratic processes have been undermined in the run-up to the vote. Jokowi has reached the end of his term limit after a decade in power and has been accused of manoeuvring to boost Prabowo’s campaign as part of efforts to form a dynasty and protect his legacy.

Jokowi has not explicitly endorsed any of the three candidates. However, he has appeared on stage alongside Prabowo, and has been accused of leveraging state resources to boost him. His office has denied that he is seeking to interfere in the election.

His son’s joint campaign with Prabowo was possible only after a court, headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, tweaked the eligibility criteria for candidates, outraging many people.

Prabowo, a former son-in-law of Suharto, is strongly opposed by human rights activists. A longtime commander in the Kopassus special forces, he was dishonourably discharged in 1998 after Kopassus soldiers kidnapped and tortured political opponents of Suharto.

Of 22 activists kidnapped that year, 13 are still missing. Prabowo always denied wrongdoing and has never been charged in relation to the allegations. Several of his men were tried and convicted.

Prabowo is also accused of involvement in rights abuses in Papua and Timor-Leste, including a 1983 massacre in which hundreds of people, most of them men, were killed in the village of Kraras. He has denied the allegations.

Voting on Wednesday was delayed in some areas because of heavy rains and flooding, including in Central Java, where there was flooding, and the capital, Jakarta, experienced heavy thunderstorms early in the day. According to the disaster management agency in Jakarta, 70 polling stations were flooded after persistent rains.

Swari Adnan, 39, was among those unable to vote after a thunderstorm and heavy rain in Jakarta damaged ballots for her polling station. She would not be able to cast her vote until next Sunday, she said.

“My polling station is fine, but the flood affected the neighbourhood unity office, rendering our ballots and those of other community groups, unusable,” said Swari. “At least they give me the date [for the election]. What can we do?”

Running against Prabowo is Anies, the former head of an Islamic university, who served as governor of Jakarta until last year.

Anies opposes Jokowi’s signature plan to move Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to Nusantara, on the island of Borneo, about 2,000km (1,240 miles) away, which involves constructing government buildings and housing from scratch.

Ganjar is the governing party candidate, but does not have Jokowi’s support. He was a national legislator for the governing Indonesian Democratic party of Struggle for 10 years before being elected in 2013 for the first of two terms as Central Java governor.

While governor, he refused to allow Israel to participate in the under-20 Fifa World Cup to be held in his province. Fifa subsequently dropped Indonesia as host of the games, causing a backlash against Ganjar from football fans.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Source: The Guardian