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Indonesia general election - explainer

Who's competing? What's at stake?

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-04-09 Latest update 2009-04-09 14:02 TU

A woman votes in Aceh province(Photo: Reuters)

A woman votes in Aceh province
(Photo: Reuters)

The vast archipelago of Indonesia votes today in a general election, one of whose results will be to decide who can stand for the presidency in July. What else is at stake? What are the main parties? Who can vote for them?

Who are the voters?

A Papuan tribesman casts his ballot into a traditional net bag known as Noken(Photo: Reuters)

A Papuan tribesman casts his ballot into a traditional net bag known as Noken
(Photo: Reuters)

There are 171 million people eligible to vote out of an estimated 237 million population, which makes Indonesia the world's fourth most populous country;

They are spread across 17,508 islands, some huge, like Borneo, some tiny and unpopulated;

There are 33 provinces, each with its own governor and legislature, the provincial assemblies are also being elected today;

There are about 300 ethnic groups, but politics is dominated by the island of Java, while the official language is Bahasa Indonesia, a form of Malay;

Islam is the majority religion, with 86 per cent of Indonesians registered as Muslims, giving the country the largest Islamic population in the world, while Protestantism, Catholicism and Hinduism also have followers and many Indonesians observe some animist customs;

The official state ideology is Pancasila, whose first principle is belief in one god, but does not discriminate between montheisms, while national unity is another important article of faith.

Find your way around this! A polling station officer looks at a ballot paper during counting(Photo: Reuters)

Find your way around this! A polling station officer looks at a ballot paper during counting
(Photo: Reuters)

What are the main parties?

Forty-four parties are contesting the elections

The Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which is secular, was set up in 2001 after he was nominated for the vice-presidency but failed to win it;

Golkar was the ruling party under the military-dominated regime of President Suharto but has repackaged itself as a secular, democratic movement;

The Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), another secular party, is led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the country's founder Sukarno, who was President from 2001 to 2004;

Islamic parties include the National Awakening Party (PKB), which was founded by former President Abdurrahman Wahid, the leader of the conservative Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic organisation, and is now led by Muhaiman Iskandar; the National Mandate Party (Pan), was founded by Amin Rais, the leader of the Muhammadiyah Islamic organisation; there are several smaller Islamist parties, some of which are more fundamentalist;

The Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) is a new party, founded by General Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's controversial son-in-law, who has been accused of responsibility for atrocities in East Timor and elsewhere, notably when he headed the Kopassus special forces between 1995 and 1998.

What is at stake?

Seats in parliament, known as the Majlis, and in provincial assemblies, whose powers have been increased since the fall of Suharto;

The right to stand candidates in the 8 July presidential election, which is restricted to parties which have won either 20 per cent of seats in parliament or 25 per cent of votes in parliamentary elections.