By Martin Petty and Kanupriya Kapoor

(Reuters) – Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, will hold an election on Feb. 14. Here’s what you need to know.


Three candidates are vying to succeed incumbent President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, who is finishing the second of the maximum two terms allowed. The contenders are the biggest party’s Ganjar Pranowo and independent Anies Baswedan, both former governors in their 50s, and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, a 72-year-old former special forces commander making a third attempt at the presidency.


Surveys have consistently shown Prabowo is the candidate to beat, with a lead that stretched to 20 points in Indikator Politik’s most recent poll release last month, with 45.8% support.

Ganjar and Anies have been neck-and-neck mostly, but recent surveys show Anies pulling away slightly, though still far adrift of Prabowo. In the last survey, 5.8% were undecided.


Overall victory for Prabowo is far from certain because of Indonesia’s election rules. Prabowo could get the most votes on Feb. 14 but has a big challenge to win outright, which requires a candidate to secure more than 50% of total votes cast, and at least 20% of votes in more than half of the country’s provinces.

If he fails, he must contest a June 26 runoff with the second placed finisher, which could be a tougher race to win.

A runoff scenario, not seen since 2004, might see a shifting of allegiance from some parties to get behind the second place candidate in an effort to thwart Prabowo.

But much depends on who comes second. Backers of Ganjar would likely shift to Anies ahead of a runoff, but it is unclear if parties supporting Anies would get behind Ganjar if he is runner up.


Criticism is mounting over Jokowi’s perceived political interference and bias as he tacitly campaigns for Prabowo.

Indonesians were astounded in October when a top court headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law made a late change to eligibility rules, which allowed the president’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, to become Prabowo’s running mate.

Critics fear Jokowi is enabling an erosion of democratic values in Indonesia, which only 25 years ago broke free of authoritarian rule amid massive social and economic upheaval.

Nevertheless, Jokowi remains hugely popular among the masses and it is largely thanks to him that Prabowo and Gibran have held a consistent lead in surveys.

Indonesia’s presidential elections tend to be a contest of personalities rather than policies, with all three candidates making similar pledges on inclusive growth and welfare.


Roughly half of Indonesia’s more than 270 million people live on the island of Java and its provinces are bellwethers that will be closely watched on election night.

Like elections elsewhere, analysts expect Indonesia’s polls to be decided largely on social media, an area where Prabowo has dominated. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest users of the short video app TikTok and Prabowo has captured this space not with campaign policies and speeches, but awkward dance moves that have gone viral and endeared people to him.

More than half of Indonesia’s eligible voters are under 40 and less attuned to narratives of Prabowo’s hardline past. He is still dogged by allegations he orchestrated kidnappings of activists and other human rights abuses as a feared military commander under the late strongman Suharto, once his father-in-law. Prabowo denies that and was never prosecuted, though he was honourably discharged from the military and barred from the United States until recently.

Turnout matters for Prabowo, who needs to convert his online appeal among young people into votes. In the 2019 election, turnout by Gen-Z voters was far below the national rate.

Another key demographic is Indonesia’s two biggest moderate Muslim groups, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, which between them claim more than 80 million members. Backing from their influential figures can help secure grassroots support. So far, an NU-affiliated party has backed Anies, with its leader as his running mate, but the wider group is split.


Jokowi’s decade in office is generally seen as one of stability and prosperity for Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

It’s no surprise candidates have pledged to continue most of his initiatives. This includes developing downstream mining to extract value from its abundant natural resources, drawing down on coal and boosting renewable energy, expanding social welfare, and continuing a $32 billion new capital city.

While candidates have ambitious targets of up to 7% growth and creating millions of jobs, their campaign pledges are light on specific details.

(Compiled by Martin Petty and Kanupriya Kapoor)

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