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Halal ink, giant ballots ready for Indonesian election

A worker prepares ballot boxes to be distributed to polling stations in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 15, 2019. The world's third-largest democracy is gearing up to hold its legislative and presidential elections on April 17.
A worker prepares ballot boxes to be distributed to polling stations in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, April 15, 2019. The world's third-largest democracy is gearing up to hold its legislative and presidential elections on April 17. AP Photo

Nearly 193 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in presidential and legislative elections on Wednesday. President Joko Widodo, the first Indonesian president from outside the Jakarta elite, is competing against Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces general from the era of authoritarian rule under military dictator Suharto.

Some election facts and figures:

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BY THE NUMBERS

The election is a huge logistical exercise costing about 27.6 trillion rupiah ($1.9 billion). Indonesians are casting votes not only for president but about 20,500 other candidates standing for the Senate and legislatures at the national, provincial and district levels.

Election officials are providing more than 1.6 million bottles of halal-certified indelible ink for voters to dip a finger in after casting ballots at some 810,000 polling stations. The Election Commission estimates more than 17 million people are involved in ensuring the elections run smoothly, including volunteers, guards and registered witnesses for every polling station. But poster-sized ballots have drawn criticism as a challenge for elderly voters.

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DEMOCRATIC OUTPOST

After three decades of military rule ended in 1998, Indonesia has become the most robust democracy in Southeast Asia, a region where authoritarian governments and stage-managed elections are the norm.

But despite being the world's most populous Muslim nation, the third-largest democracy and a member of the Group of 20 major economies, Indonesia has a low profile on the world stage. That is slowly changing, with the country recently becoming a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, announcing a bid to host the 2032 Olympics and analysts forecasting its economy to be among the world's five largest by 2030.

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CAMPAIGN ISSUES

The presidential contenders are stark contrasts in background and personality. The slightly nerdy Widodo is admired for his friendly, down-to-earth manner. Subianto, from a wealthy family, is prone to explosions of anger and has an emotional, tub-thumping style of campaigning. Both are nationalists and Muslims, though Subianto's nationalism sits at the extreme end of the spectrum.

Subianto's campaign has been negative and fear-based, emphasizing what he sees as Indonesia's current dire situation and the risk of exploitation by foreign powers or disintegration. Widodo, the front-runner in all credible polls, has emphasized his government's efforts to improve infrastructure and reduce poverty, and can show progress in both areas.

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