07/08/2014, 00.00
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Indonesia to elect a new president, amid fears of violence and security alerts

by Mathias Hariyadi

The election for the successor of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is tomorrow. Polling overseas has ended, with a breakdown in services and allegations of irregularities. Police and soldiers patrol the streets and sensitive areas. Religious leaders launch appeals for calm and urge people to vote responsibly. Catholic bishops say the Church is neutral, but most faithful support Jokowi, a guarantor of freedom.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Amid fears of possible violence, imposing security measures to prevent any outbreak of tension, accusations of fraud in overseas polling and last minute pre-election polls, the vigil of tomorrow's Presidential elections in Indonesia is tense.  

On July 9, the duo formed by the governor of Jakarta Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Deputy Jusuf Kalla, former number two of the current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's first term (favorites to date) will face former Gen. Prabowo Subianto and his deputy Hatta Radjasa. Analysts and policy experts speak of "historic" elections for the future of the nation, its economy, to the balance of domestic power and the balance between ethnic and religious groups in the most populous Muslim country in the world.

Overseas voting has concluded, although the official results will only be announced once the polls have closed at home. Early exit poll results are conflicting: according to a first sample of voters  the duo led by outgoing governor of Jakarta are clearly ahead with a broad consensus among migrant workers. A second institute, however, gives victory, albeit with lower margins, to the Subianto-Rajasa duo. Optimism prevails in both camps which tend to comment on the poll that favor their respective candidate.

However, the overseas polling has also raised the first controversies of the election; in Hong Kong a thousand migrant workers could not vote because they turned up to polling stations after 5 pm, the deadline set by local authorities to exercise their right. Local sources also report that some people - unidentified - promised citizens excluded from voting that they would be able to express a preference, as long as they voted for Subianto. This sparked immediate protests in Indonesia, particularly among electoral committees in support of Jokowi.

Despite this, the issue of security and sectarian tensions are the main focus on the eve of the ballot. A high state of alert has been in vigor for days among police and military officers and soldiers have been deployed in the most strategic points at risk in major cities. Appeals for calm and the regular carrying out of elections are also coming from the outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the main religious leaders.

In an unexpected move, yesterday, Yudhoyono invited the most important Muslim and Christian leaders (Catholics and Protestants), for closed-door meetings at the presidential palace dedicated to the election, to avoid any kind of mess. The president the leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the President of the Synod of the Protestant Churches (PGI) and the chairman of the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI), Msgr. Ignatius Suharyo, the current archbishop of Jakarta all met with the president for discussions.

The MUI leader expressed concern about possible clashes between the respective supporters of the two candidates. In contrast, the president of the bishops confirmed the neutrality of the Catholic leadership - even if there are priests who have openly expressed support for one of the two pairs of candidates - and reiterated that all the faithful will exercise their right to vote according to their conscience. The Jesuit priest Fr. Franz Magnis Suseno, a well-known academic, has also expressed concern that a victory Subianto would give new vigor to the Islamist fringe and seriously endanger freedom of religion in the country; supporters of the former general immediately responded by inviting the Catholic leader not to get involved in politics and to avoid fomenting provocations or divisions within society.

In terms of preferences, even the two main moderate Muslim movements - the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah - confirmed their neutrality and impartiality. However, there are individual local religious leaders - imams and ulema - that could significantly affect the outcome of the vote, by influencing their community. In recent weeks there has also been a smear campaign against Jokowi, accused of being a Christian (in reality he is a moderate Muslim, who had chosen a Christian as deputy in Jakarta), a descendant of Chinese ethnicity and a member of the Communist Party. A campaign which, despite having calmed somewhat, has (partially) eroded his consensus.


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