Indonesia presidential race pits heavy metal against the general

The world’s 3rd-biggest democracy will hold its general election tomorrow, with 245,000 candidates running for public office

JAKARTA • Indonesia’s heavy metal-loving leader Joko Widodo faces off against ex-military general Prabowo Subianto in the race to lead the world’s third-biggest democracy tomorrow, a re-run of the 2014 election contest narrowly won by Widodo.

A record 245,000 candidates are running for public office from the presidency down to local legislator positions, including an Olympic gold medallist, a pop diva, a frontman who lost his bandmates and wife in a killer tsunami and even a late dictator’s son convicted of masterminding a judge’s murder.

Joko Widodo

Widodo’s landmark 2014 victory capped a remarkable rise for the down-to-earth outsider in a political scene dominated by political dynasties from the era of Indonesia’s late dictator Suharto.

A one-time furniture exporter, the 57-year-old shot to prominence when he was elected governor of the capital Jakarta in 2012 after a successful stint as mayor of his hometown Solo.

Raised in a bamboo shack in a riverside slum, his humble demeanour and love for headbangers Metallica proved a hit with voters fed up with a graftprone elite.

But the father of three — popularly known as Jokowi — carries a mixed track record into the polls.

He championed an ambitious drive to build much-needed roads, airports and other infrastructure across the sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, including Jakarta’s first mass rapid transit system.

He also ushered in or expanded popular health and social development schemes, including cash for the rural poor.

But his rights record has come under scrutiny, with an uptick in discriminatory attacks on Indonesia’s small LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community during his tenure, and high-profile cases of intolerance directed at religious minority groups in the Muslim majority nation.

He has also been accused of creeping authoritarianism following arrests of Opposition campaigners and a revised law that let Jakarta ban mass organisations.

Viewed as weak and out of his depth in his first year in office, Widodo consolidated power in part by appointing Suharto-era army generals with chequered pasts to key posts.

He has further isolated moderate voters by picking conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin — known for his disparaging views of minorities — as his vice presidential nominee.

Widening inequality and a slump in the rupiah currency have sparked criticism of Widodo’s economic stewardship, despite annual growth of about 5% and low inflation.

His big-ticket infrastructure projects have also been knocked for offering little benefit to tens of millions of poor Indonesians.

Prabowo Subianto

Subianto lost by a whisker five years ago, cutting Widodo’s once-huge lead to just a few points by polling day.

The ex-general — and ex-husband of one of Suharto’s daughters — faces another uphill battle in 2019, trailing by double digits in most opinion polls.

Prabowo has tried and failed to win high office several times over the past 15 years, including an unsuccessful 2009 run for the vice presidency.

But his ambitions have been dogged by ties to the Suharto family and a dark past — Subianto ordered the abduction of democracy activists in the dying days of the dictator’s rule in 1998 and has been accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.

He was dismissed from the military over the kidnappings.

This time round, Subianto has sought to portray himself as a defender of the nation who will boost military spending, and has accused Widodo of selling the mineral-rich country to foreign interests, including China.

He has courted hardline Islamist groups and — despite being vastly wealthy himself — railed against the country’s elites, claiming they are exploiting the poor.

Some commentators said that the overseas-educated 67-year-old believes he is destined to lead Indonesia.

Others have questioned his hunger for the job, suggesting he is running to help his Gerindra party at the polls and to supply a platform for younger running mate Sandiaga Uno.

Uno, a 49-year-old former financier who is reported to have spent about US$100 million (RM411 million) of his own fortune on the campaign, has been popular with millennials and housewives, possibly paving the way for a tilt at Indonesia’s top job in 2024.

Tommy Suharto

The dictator’s youngest son served just four years of a 15-year prison term for hiring hitmen to murder a Supreme Court judge who had sentenced him to jail for corruption.

Known as a playboy with a taste for flashy cars, the younger Suharto is running for a legislative seat in Papua New Guinea, which his father annexed in the late 60s following a United Nations-backed referendum widely criticised as a sham.

Ricky Subagja

Considered one of badminton’s greatest doubles specialists, the 48-yearold and his partner Rexy Mainaky won over 30 international titles together, including a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.


Pop music star and actress Krisdayanti is taking her first run at public office after a successful career that saw the former teen model shoot to fame at home and also in neighbouring Malaysia and Brunei.

Ifan 17

Frontman of pop-rock band “Seventeen”, Ifan 17, lost his bandmates and wife when a towering tsunami slammed into a beachside resort at a concert last year on Java island. — AFP