Cheers, dancing, selfies: Indonesians kick off election season as candidates register

It was a sea of party flags at the General Elections Commission of Indonesia in central Jakarta on Oct 19, the first day of registration for candidates.

Hariz Baharudin, Linda Yulisman and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

Hariz Baharudin, Linda Yulisman and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

The Straits Times


Mr Anies Baswedan and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar arriving at the General Elections Commission of Indonesia on Oct 19, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS/THE STRAITS TIMES

October 20, 2023

JAKARTA – Election fever in Indonesia kicked into high gear as the first two pairs of candidates for the country’s top posts submitted their applications on Thursday, amid a carnival-like atmosphere as thousands of supporters cheered them on.

It was a sea of party flags at the General Elections Commission of Indonesia (KPU) in central Jakarta on Thursday, the first day of registration for candidates. The crowd chanted the names of their candidates, recited prayers for their victory and danced along to music blaring from speakers.

Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and his running mate, National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar, were the first to register.

Arriving in a white jeep flanked by more than 12 security personnel, the duo dressed in matching white shirts and songkok posed for selfies and shook hands with fans as they entered the KPU building at 9.45am.

At around 12.40pm, the candidates for the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and Indonesia’s Security Minister Mahfud MD, turned up at the commission in an open-air lorry decorated in the country’s flag colours of red and white.

Mr Ganjar was dressed in a black shirt while Mr Mahfud wore a white one. Protected by a security team, the pair waved to the crowd from their lorry as it made its way slowly along a 2km route from the Independence Proclamation Park, where supporters had gathered, to the KPU.

Their entourage also included a marching band as well as dancers in traditional costumes from various provinces in Indonesia.

The registration ends on Oct 25 and the election will be held on Feb 14, 2024. More than 204 million Indonesians are expected to vote.

Supporters for Amin, a portmanteau that they have given the Anies and Muhaimin pair, started arriving as early as 6am outside the KPU, with some travelling as long as three hours to reach the venue.

Rice farmer Ayoh Abas, 45, who comes from the Banten province located north-west of Jakarta, left her home at 4am while it was still dark, to be among the first standing outside KPU.

She said: “I want change. Anies can bring change. I want irrigation. Our paddy fields fully rely on rain, and it has been so dry.”

Amin supporters started clearing out of the KPU area from 11.30am, after which those from the PDI-P pairing’s camp started arriving. While some supporters did cross paths, things stayed peaceful, and some supporters even smiled at each other and shook hands.

Housewife Nurhayati Manurung, a 55-year-old supporter of Mr Ganjar, said that she admired his humility as well as his good track record as Central Java governor.

Ms Nurhayati told The Straits Times she took a train from Tangerang, a city outside Jakarta, with around 250 other supporters, and that she wanted to show her support to both Mr Ganjar and Mr Mahfud, who she said made for a “very cool pair”.

Ms Nurhayati and Ms Ayoh, along with most of the more than 3,000 people who turned up outside the KPU, were decked out in merchandise bearing the names or faces of the candidates.

T-shirts, vests and badges bore the faces of Mr Anies, Mr Ganjar and their running mates, as stalls peddled their goods, with some enterprising sellers weaving in and out of crowds to help the supporters make quick purchases.

“It’s only 9am, they’re not even here yet, and we’ve almost sold out. I wish I had brought more items, but customers can still buy our items online,” said a stall owner selling Anies merchandise who did not want to give his name.

Despite the sweltering heat, supporters kept their energies up.

They chanted the names of the candidates and made speeches to show support through loudhailers as well as large speakers attached to stationary vehicles. Roads leading to the KPU were closed to allow people to assemble.

Prayers were recited for the candidates’ victory, reflecting how Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and the big role that religion is expected to play in the upcoming electoral battle.

To recharge, some sat on picnic mats, shielded their eyes with sunglasses and vigorously used handheld fans – all of which could be purchased on-site.

“Lumayan, lumayan, lumayan!” shouted a man selling sunglasses for 10,000 rupiah (90 Singapore cents).

Also available was street food sold from dozens of gerobak, or mobile vendor stalls. Supporters were seen tucking into mie ayam, rojak, as well as fried snacks prepared on the spot.

Volunteers, some of whom were handing out free bottles of water, reminded people to be responsible and pick up after themselves to avoid littering.

More than 2,000 officers were deployed on Thursday to ensure that the registration process went on smoothly.

In a press briefing after registering, Mr Anies said that what he and his team were offering was the idea of “change” for Indonesian families.

“We believe we will bring equality and justice, whether through affordable prices of household necessities or equal opportunities for jobs, education and health,” he said.

Mr Ganjar, during a similar briefing, said that he and his team want to develop Indonesia more quickly, and there are many issues to work on such as energy transition or helping the poor and the neglected in society.

Referring to the policies of the current government, he said his team would continue with polices that are good and improve or discard bad policies.

Both pairs of candidates are scheduled to undergo medical check-ups this weekend, as part of the protocol for registration.

A three-way presidential election is expected, with the last presumptive candidate being Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, who has yet to announce his running mate.

A potential vice-presidential candidate for the minister includes Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is the son of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, after a controversial court ruling paved the way for the 36-year-old to qualify for the race.

In the ruling on Monday, the Constitutional Court kept the minimum age for Indonesia’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates at 40, but it also ruled that this age limit does not apply to an elected regional leader.

Growing protests over the ruling could prompt Mr Prabowo to instead partner with State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir, say political insiders.

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