Indonesians voted on Wednesday to pick a new president and parliament after a six-month campaign in the sprawling equatorial archipelago dominated by economic issues but also marked by the growing influence of conservative Islam.
The eight-hour vote across a country that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips is both a Herculean logistical feat and testimony to the resilience of democracy two decades after authoritarianism was defeated.
President Joko Widodo, a furniture businessman who entered politics 14 years ago as a small-city mayor, is seeking re-election against former general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in the last election, in 2014.
Most opinion polls give Widodo a double-digit lead, but the opposition says the race is much closer and Prabowo, dressed in a white shirt and a traditional Indonesian peci cap, said before voting in Bogor he was optimistic about winning with a big margin.
President Widodo, dressed in a white shirt and accompanied by First Lady Iriana Widodo, voted in the capital.
“I feel relieved,” said Widodo, after casting his ballot and displaying a finger dipped in indelible ink, part of the process of avoiding fraudulent voting.
More than 10,000 people have volunteered to crowd-source election results posted at polling stations in a real-time bid to thwart attempts at fraud.
However, the opposition has already alleged voter list irregularities that could affect millions and has vowed legal or “people power” action if its concerns are ignored.
Widodo’s running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, called a for a peaceful vote “because the presidential election is not a war, but a search for the best leader”, according to Kompas TV.
There was not much obvious security at polling stations in Jakarta, with volunteers helping direct people into voting booths.
The election is being billed as the world’s biggest single-day vote and is certainly one of the most complicated, with voters contending with five paper ballots for president, vice president, and national and regional legislative candidates.
Some voters clearly struggled with the process.
“The ballots with the photos on it were actually confusing. And the other one had a lot of names I didn’t recognize,” said Orlando Yudistira, 19, a first time voter in Jakarta.
Another voter, Siti Suprapti, 85, said she had needed help to open the ballot “but I chose the candidates myself”.[source: Reuters]