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Indonesia election

Five things to know about Indonesia's huge presidential election

President Jokowi leads challenger Prabowo in polls ahead of Wednesday's vote

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks during a televised debate with his opponent, incumbent Joko Widodo, in Jakarta last month.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- About 193 million Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday to pick the president of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.

The incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is running on his solid, if unspectacular, economic track record, while his opponent, former military general Prabowo Subianto, has campaigned on his nationalist credentials. It is a rematch of the 2014 election, when Widodo beat Subianto by a small margin. Polls indicate that Widodo is likely to win a second term, but the gap has narrowed in recent weeks.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time. Exit polls will come out about two hours later, followed by several quick count results that should indicate the winner later in the day. The General Elections Commission will announce the official final tally up to a month later. The new president will be inaugurated in October.

Here are five things to know about the world's largest direct presidential election:

Who are the candidates?

Widodo comes from a humble background, having been being evicted from his home during his childhood, and went on to become a furniture exporter. After entering politics, he become mayor of Solo, a city in central Java, before taking the governorship of Jakarta.

He won the 2014 election with reform pledges and populist policies that appealed to the millions on the lower rungs of the social ladder. But this time he has reached out to get support from "old machine" political groups that hold sway in local communities -- the most prominent being Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim group.

Subianto is a self-admitted member of the establishment that he has attacked on the campaign trail. His father was a former minister and one of the country's most prominent economists, and Subianto himself used to be married to late dictator Suharto's daughter.

Adept at whipping up crowds with his fiery rhetoric and plain talking, he is not without controversy. The military unit he commanded was involved with alleged abductions and disappearances of pro-democracy activists in 1998, and after the collapse of the Suharto regime, he was tried by court-martial and discharged from military service.

Who is running for vice president?

Widodo's running mate is Ma'ruf Amin, a 76-year-old senior cleric who chairs Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), the nation's top clerical body, and the former leader of Nahdlatul Ulama.

The president picked Amin in an attempt to dispel accusations that he was anti-Muslim. But the selection was controversial, given Amin's role in issuing a fatwa, or religious ruling, to bring about the downfall of former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Purnama, a key Widodo ally, in the capital's 2017 gubernatorial election.

Subianto picked the more youthful Sandiaga Uno as his running mate. The 49-year-old self-made billionaire has appealed to younger voters, with his looks winning over some women. Uno is also portrayed as having undergone a spiritual transformation to appeal to increasingly conservative Muslim voters, leaving behind a hedonistic lifestyle -- a growing trend among Indonesian youth -- to regularly attend Friday prayers at mosques. His wealth has also helped fund Subianto's campaign.

What do the polls show?

Credible polls show a double-digit lead for Widodo. A survey released by LSI Denny JA last week showed the incumbent's camp with a 55.9%-65.8% approval rating, and Subianto's team with 34.2%-44.1%. Eurasia Group puts the chances of Widodo's re-election at 80%.

Should Widodo win, all eyes will be on the margin of his victory. A narrower-than-expected margin could prompt Subianto's camp to question the election result, and lead to street protests by his supporters. The opposition has already raised questions about the impartiality of the elections commission, and further reports on alleged vote rigging -- overseas voting in Malaysia has been subject to such allegations -- could fire up opposition activists.

What are they pledging?

The candidates are fighting on similar platforms. They have both vowed to increase the country's self-sufficiency, develop downstream industries, boost industry, raise the tax revenue-to-gross domestic product ratio, support the digital economy and push Islamic finance.

Widodo's first term was characterized by his infrastructure push to better connect -- both physically and digitally -- the sprawling archipelago's 17,000 islands. While the president plans to keep building infrastructure, he has pledged to focus on developing quality human resources in the second term. He has also promised to increase financial help to the needy -- the core of his support base.

Subianto is seen as leaning more on populist policies. One of his campaign pledges is to "prioritize local workers over foreign workers in the opening of new jobs." The former general has also criticized the president's infrastructure drive as lacking economic sense, and he recently told Nikkei he would review all of the major projects underway should he take office.

What about the legislative elections?

Voters on Wednesday will also elect representatives for the House of Representatives (lower house) and the Regional Representative Council (upper house), and elect local assembly members. This is a massive task in a nation that spans 5,000 kilometers, with the cost set to reach around 25 trillion rupiahs ($1.8 billion).

There are currently 560 seats -- represented by 10 parties -- in the lower house, with the number rising to 575 in this election. The parties backing Widodo in this election are likely to gain more seats than those who support Subianto, but some smaller parties may miss out, with the threshold for obtaining seats increasing to 4% of the national vote.

The lower house election has implications for the next presidential election in 2024. The election law stipulates that for a party -- or a coalition of parties -- to nominate a presidential candidate they need to hold "at least 20% of the seats" in the lower house, or 25% of the popular vote. While these thresholds may change over the next five years, a failure to win enough votes may hamper the hopes of some presidential hopefuls.

Nikkei staff writers Jun Suzuki and Ismi Damayanti in Jakarta contributed to this article.

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