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Tight governor races ahead in Indonesia

Publication Date : 18-10-2012


If the run-off election last month for the governor of Indonesia's capital was a foretelling of rising political temperatures, then the heat will be turned up next year.

Voters in 14 of the 32 remaining provinces in Indonesia will elect new governors next year, in contests that will be seen as test runs for many political parties ahead of legislative and presidential polls in 2014.

The most closely-watched races will be in West, Central and East Java, whose combined 96 million voters make up more than half the country's electorate.

"Parties will go all out for a win in these three elections because whoever takes two, if not all three, seats will be in an extremely strong position for 2014," political analyst Hanta Yuda of the Pol-Tracking Institute told The Straits Times.

"The polls will also test the effectiveness of their strategies and party machinery," he added.

While there is no clear guarantee that whoever wins big in Java will be a front runner in 2014, a fresh victory will give the winning parties significant momentum and goodwill during campaigning for parliamentary elections on April 9 and then presidential polls, exactly three months later.

Already, new Jakarta governor Joko Widodo's Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) is hoping his popularity will rub off.

"Jokowi can do it," party chief and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri told party members this month, referring to Joko's nickname. "Don't others want to do the same?"

At a party conference over the weekend, leaders set a target of a clean sweep in all three provinces.

But it will not be easy, as other parties - mindful that the Jakarta poll outcome shows how a strong personality can easily trump big- party coalitions - are seeking strong contenders.

Not all parties have named candidates for West Java - the first in Java to go to the polls on February 24. But incumbent governor Ahmad Heryawan from the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party is set to run.

Opinion polls, however, put his deputy and former action movie star Dede Yusuf as the front runner.

Yusuf is backed by the ruling Democrat Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono but will face stiff competition from the likely PDI-P candidates - pro-labour MP and ex-actress Rieke Diah Pitaloka and her likely running mate, anti-corruption campaigner Teten Masduki.

Golkar has an outside chance in Java but the party of former strongman Suharto is set to coast home in many of the other provinces.

The Central Java race in May is less clear for now but parties are looking at the popularity ratings of their picks.

There are indications that the PDI-P may drop its support for incumbent governor Bibit Waluyo, a retired general, in favour of his popular deputy, Rustriningsih, or current MP Ganjar Pranowo.

The East Java race in August will pit incumbent governor Soekarwo from the Democrat Party against his 2008 challenger, Nadhlatul Ulama women's wing chief Khofifah Indar Parawansa.

She has a chance of being backed by the PDI-P but the party is also reportedly considering supporting its own man, the former Surabaya mayor Bambang Dwi Hartono.


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