JAKARTA : Indonesia’s main opposition party was on course to win most votes Wednesday in parliamentary elections and strengthen the chances of its popular candidate, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, in an upcoming presidential poll.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) had around 19 percent of the national vote, according to unofficial tallies, with more than 80 percent of a sample of votes counted.
However that figure is lower than recent surveys had predicted and, if confirmed, could make it harder than expected for Widodo - seen as a fresh face in a country still dominated by figures from the autocratic Suharto era - to become president.
Nevertheless the 52-year-old seemed happy with his party’s showing, telling reporters: “Thanks be to God that the people have put their trust in the PDI-P.”
The Democratic Party of current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looked on course for a huge loss, with the tallies giving it around 10 percent, half its share in the 2009 legislative elections.
Millions earlier streamed to polling stations across the huge archipelago, which stretches across three time zones from remote and mountainous Papua in the east to the crowded main island of Java and to Sumatra in the west.
“We hope for representatives who care about our interests rather than their own. I’ve picked the most honest and fair candidates,” Ilyas Hasan, 43, told AFP in Jayapura, the capital of deeply poor Papua province.
Some 186 million people were eligible to vote for around 230,000 candidates competing for about 20,000 seats in national and regional legislatures, although the most important vote is for the lower house of the national parliament.
Wednesday’s polls determine who can run in presidential elections in July and all eyes are on frontrunner Widodo and the PDI-P, which has long been tipped to win the biggest share of the vote.
The euphoria surrounding the slightly built governor was illustrated earlier in the day when hundreds of journalists mobbed him as he voted outside his Jakarta residence.
Known by his nickname “Jokowi”, the governor is from a new generation of leaders in the world’s third-biggest democracy, which has long been dominated by aloof former military figures and tycoons dating back to Suharto’s three-decade dictatorial rule.
The former furniture business owner has been a political phenomenon since his meteoric rise to the capital’s top job in 2012. His common touch - he regularly visits Jakarta’s slums in his trademark checked shirt - has won him a huge following.
Buoyed by his popularity, the PDI-P has long been ahead in opinion polls for the legislative elections, and the party extended its lead after nominating him for president last month.
However early counts showed the party getting lower than recent predictions of around 25 percent.
By early evening, the PDI-P was on 19.5 percent of the vote, according to one unofficial tally, known as a “quick count”, by pollster Indonesia Survey Circle. It had so far counted about 82 percent of a sample of votes from some 2,000 polling stations.
A tally from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies gave the party 19.1 percent, with about 85 percent of a sample of votes counted at some 2,000 polling stations.
A party needs 25 percent of the national vote or 20 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament to be able to field a presidential candidate on its own.
If the results are confirmed, PDI-P may have to form a coalition to put Widodo forward as its presidential candidate, instead of being able to go it alone.
Although many believe Widodo is a shoo-in for the presidency, he will face formidable opponents. His main rival is seen as Prabowo Subianto, a former commander of the army’s notorious special forces, although he lags far behind the governor in the polls .
Whoever replaces Yudhoyono - due to step down after 10 years in power - will inherit tremendous challenges, with economic growth in Southeast Asia’s top economy slowing, religious intolerance on the rise and corruption endemic.
Problems with voting in Papua, where officials said bad weather prevented planes transporting ballot boxes from reaching some mountainous districts, illustrated the huge logistical challenge of holding elections in an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.
However the elections, the country’s fourth legislative polls since the end of authoritarian rule under Suharto in 1998, appeared to have gone smoothly in most parts of the country and there were no other reports of major disruption to voting.