Indonesians vote for a new president on Wednesday with Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto the frontrunner despite concerns over his human rights record and claims of improper support from outgoing leader Joko Widodo.
Polls project Subianto, a military chief during the Suharto dictatorship a generation ago, is on course to secure a majority that would avoid a second-round run-off.
The 72-year-old is the clear favourite after a campaign mixing populist rhetoric with pledges to continue the policies of Widodo, who remains hugely popular but is required by the constitution to stand down after almost a decade in power.
“We will fight to bring prosperity for all people of Indonesia. We will continue what was already being built by previous presidents,” Subianto said in a final pitch to supporters at a weekend campaign rally.
Nearly 205 million people are eligible to vote for Subianto or his rivals, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo, in just the fifth presidential election since the end of Suharto’s dictatorship in 1998.
Rights groups have expressed alarm that Subianto could roll back hard-won democratic freedoms if he wins, pointing to accusations he ordered the abduction of democracy activists at the end of Suharto’s rule.
Subianto was dismissed from the military in 1998 over the abductions. The United States for years refused him a visa over his rights record, but he denied the accusations and was never charged.
Subianto has since rehabilitated his image, partly thanks to a savvy social media campaign targeting Indonesia’s youth in which he is portrayed as a “cuddly grandpa”.
Another key factor in his popularity is having Widodo’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his vice presidential running mate.
Widodo enjoys near-record approval ratings after two terms overseeing steady economic growth and relatively stable politics in the nation’s young democracy.
But some legal experts and rights groups have accused Widodo of improperly using government funds to support Subianto.
Questions have also been raised over how Raka, 36, became Subianto’s running mate.
In October Indonesia’s then-chief justice, who is Widodo’s brother-in-law, changed rules that had barred any candidates running for high office below the age of 40.
Subianto and his aides have rejected all accusations of impropriety.
And many voters appear willing to overlook Subianto’s past, or do not know of the allegations.
“It’s just attacks from opponents. I don’t want to hear anything bad from them,” said 24-year-old Novita Agustina, who travelled four hours to see Subianto speak over the weekend.
“I’m only focused on supporting.”
Baswedan, a former Widodo staffer and Jakarta governor, has risen in polls during the final stages of the campaign to become the favourite to challenge Subianto in the event of a second-round runoff vote.
Former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, the candidate for Widodo’s ruling party, had initially been seen as a favourite but his campaign has faltered badly.
With Wednesday declared a national holiday, more than 800,000 polling stations open for just six hours across three time zones — starting at 07:00 am (2200 GMT Tuesday) in easternmost Papua until 01:00 pm (0600 GMT) at the other end of the country in jungle-clad Sumatra.
Polling stations will be manned by more than 5.7 million election workers and over 20,000 seats are up for grabs from district level to national parliamentary seats and the presidency.
Official results are not expected until March but so-called “quick counts” are expected to give a reliable indication of the winner later Wednesday.