Vote counting starts under tight security in Indonesia

Voting for 171 mayors, regents, and provincial governors held across the world’s third-largest democracy

Depok (Indonesia): Indonesian officials started counting votes after tens of millions cast their ballots in regional elections held across the world’s third-largest democracy and biggest Muslim-majority country on Wednesday.

The elections for 171 city mayors, regents, and provincial governors are likely to set the tone for national parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019, with some hardline Islamist leaders now publicly calling for the ousting of President Joko Widodo, who is expected to seek a second term.

Widodo has pledged to protect Indonesia’s tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam in the officially secular country.

Opinion polls suggest candidates backed by parties supporting Widodo will win in key provinces like West Java, boosting his re-election chances in what is expected to be a re-run of the 2014 contest between Widodo and retired general Prabowo Subianto.

Results from the regional elections will be an important factor for parties deciding who they back as their presidential candidate since local leaders can help mobilise support.

Presidential candidates need to be declared by August 10.

Quick counts, based on early tallies of a sample of votes, are expected to start coming in a few hours after polls close at 1pm (0600 GMT) and have previously given an accurate assessment.

Official results are expected on July 9.

Tight security

Indonesia is on high alert after a series of suicide attacks in Surabaya city killed 30 people last month, in the deadliest militant Islamist attacks in over a decade.

Last week, one of Indonesia’s highest-profile Daesh supporters was sentenced to death for his involvement in a series of attacks, and experts have warned of a risk of retaliatory attacks from his supporters.

National police and military have deployed over 170,000 personnel to secure the polls, as voters cast ballots in polling booths set up in schools, town halls, and outdoor tents.

There have been no reports of unrest so far and police declared as false rumours on social media of voter intimidation in some parts of the country with sizeable ethnic Chinese communities.

At some voting stations in Java and on the resort island of Bali there was a festive feel, with polling booths decked out in a World Cup theme and election officials dressed in soccer jerseys.

More than 160 million people are registered to vote and over half of them are on Java, where West Java province’s population of 47 million alone is roughly equivalent to Spain.

Observers will be watching for Islamist influence on voters after a bitterly fought contest for the Jakarta governorship last year exposed deep religious and ethnic rifts in the officially secular country.

Some voters complained that religious issues had been overplayed in the election campaigns.

“What I can feel about the West Java election, politics cloaked with religion is very obvious here,” said Arma Putra, 26, an unemployed resident in Bekasi.

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