Jakarta: Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto is set to win the country’s presidential race after early results showed him winning more than half of the votes cast in the world’s biggest single-day election. 

Nearly 205 million Indonesians were registered to vote across more than 820,000 polling stations throughout the vast archipelago on Wednesday. 

Unofficial tallies showed the 72-year-old former special forces commander and former son-in-law of Indonesia’s late dictator Suharto winning nearly 60 percent of the votes, making him likely to clinch a decisive single-round win. 

These early results are based on samples of ballots taken by private, government-registered pollsters and have been accurate in previous elections, as official counts are not expected for a few weeks and the new president will take office later in October. 

“Based on our quick count data, we have concluded at the moment that the winner is Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, but of course, we need to wait for the official data from the General Elections Commission,” Saidiman Ahmad, program manager at pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, told Arab News. 

Subianto’s running mate to become president is incumbent leader Joko Widodo’s eldest son, whose candidacy became possible after a contentious ruling by the Constitutional Court. The court at the time of the decision was headed by Widodo’s brother-in-law, Anwar Usman. 

With an approval rating of about 80 percent, Widodo, who presided over steady growth and relative stability during his 10 years in office, held sway over the Indonesian voters under a political science theory known as economic voting, Ahmad said. 

“Under this theory, people who are satisfied with the government will be drawn to figures or parties that are perceived to represent the current administration, and I think with the political maneuvers that Widodo has done in the last few months, it shows implicitly that there’s closeness to the Prabowo-Gibran pair,” he said. 

Subianto himself is a polarizing figure in Indonesia. He has been accused of human rights violations in East Timor and involvement in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998. He was once banned from entering the US because of his human rights record. 

This election season has raised concerns that Indonesia is in danger of sliding back toward its authoritarian past under Suharto, who held power from 1965 to 1998, in the period of Indonesian history known as “New Order.”

“The victory of Prabowo Subianto as an election winner may come as a warning for many in Indonesia, especially for civil society organizations and pro-democracy figures, because this is concerning, the return of a figure that represents the authoritarian rule of New Order,” Ahmad said. 

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Arab News that democracy in Indonesia was already backsliding under Widodo. 

“Now, Jokowi opened a door to the darkness of the New Order period. Jokowi helped rebrand Prabowo from an aggressive general to a cute grandfather,” Harsono said, alluding to Subianto’s campaign strategy that often portrayed him as a cuddly grandpa. 

“Whatever the outcome of the Indonesian election, the importance of human rights issues and respect for democracy will still be front and center for the Indonesian people. Prabowo and Gibran, of course, also Gibran’s father President Jokowi, need to be transparent and straightforward on these issues.”

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