Campaigning for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Indonesia has begun, with analysts saying they expect smear tactics and vote-buying to mar the period leading to the 2019 vote.
The six-month campaign kicked off on Sunday with the two presidential candidates signing a pledge for a peaceful race and releasing white doves.
Incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo faces former special forces commander Gen. Prabowo Subianto in the election scheduled for April 17. It is a repeat of 2014 electoral battle, when Jokowi narrowly defeated Prabowo.
“God willing, it will be peaceful,” Prabowo, 66, told reporters on Monday.
About 187 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections, which will be held simultaneously for the first time.
With many voters undecided, analysts expect contestants and their supporters to employ smear tactics and buy votes.
“Money politics, fake news and hoaxes will still happen, especially during the later days of the campaign when they resort to whatever ammunition at their disposal,” Wawan Mas’udi, a political analyst at Gajah Mada University, told BenarNews.
Former Gen. Wiranto, the coordinating minister for politics and security, warned politicians against capitalizing on religious, ethnic and racial prejudices to attack opponents.
“We have to avoid such things to maintain our unity as a nation,” he said Monday.
A day after the campaign began, pollster Indonesia Survey Circle launched its survey results showing an increase in political intolerance over the past three years.
The national survey, which was carried out in August, involved 1,520 voters and focused on public perception of democracy, corruption and intolerance.
The survey showed 59 percent of Muslims objected to a non-Muslim becoming president. Non-Muslims, on the other hand, were more tolerant to the appointment of Muslim leaders, it said.
Jokowi has picked conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin, 75, as his running mate, while Prabowo is teaming up with former Jakarta deputy governor and wealthy businessman Sandiaga Uno.
Analysts said Jokowi’s choice of Ma’ruf is intended to fend off accusations by conservative Muslims that he is not Islamic enough. In 2014, he had to deal with a smear campaign accusing him of being an ethnic Chinese communist.
“This is a celebration of democracy,” Jokowi said last week before the campaign began officially. “The most important thing is, we should not let the election divide us. It should not cause neighbors to stop talking to each other or make us feel that we are no longer brothers and sisters.”
At least three recent polls show Jokowi favored by 52 percent to 53 percent of voters, while Prabowo was favored by 30 percent to 35 percent.
Sixteen political parties are contesting the parliamentary election to fill 575 seats in the House and 136 in the Senate. Almost 8,000 candidates will appear on ballots across the country.
Some analysts said newly established parties, such as the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) and the Working Party (Partai Berkarya), would find it difficult to see their candidates get elected.
The Working Party was founded by Tommy Suharto, the youngest son of former dictator Suharto, who served as president from 1967 to 1998. Tommy Suharto was sentenced to prison in 2002 on charges he ordered the killing of a judge who previously convicted him of corruption. Suharto was released in 2006.
As campaigns heat up, police said they were deploying more than 270,000 personnel backed by the military, to maintain security.
The Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) urged people to report any campaign violation they see.
“We will take action on any violation,” Bawaslu member Rahmat Bagja said.
Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta contributed to this report.