By Niniek Karmini ,AP
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Doni Wilson, a 38-year-old Jakarta taxi driver, has voted only once in his life and swore he’d never do it again after feeling a huge letdown by Indonesia’s current president.
But he’s changed his mind after being gripped by a fever that has energized many previous non-voters to head to the polls Wednesday and cast their ballots in legislative elections, mainly to try to boost the chances for the country’s most popular politician to become president.
Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, has attracted legions of supporters, especially among the young, igniting the same type of hunger for change that galvanized many previously apathetic American voters to turn out for Barack Obama in 2008. The soft-spoken former furniture producer wears simple button-down shirts with no tie or jacket and has developed a reputation of getting up close and personal with the capital’s poor, from wading into floodwaters to visiting slums.
Many consider Widodo a shoo-in for the presidency — he was leading opinion polls months before his nomination was announced in March — but his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle first needs to win 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives for him to enter the presidential race. Otherwise, a coalition must be formed with one or more parties to put candidates forward for the July 9 election.
“His presence has brought fresh air and new hope for a better Indonesia,” Wilson said. “I will vote for him because he is a good leader and we have to support him.”
About 200,000 candidates will compete for more than 19,000 slots in Wednesday’s elections. In addition to voting for the House, Indonesians will also elect a regional representative council that advises the government and local legislative councils.
It’s a huge feat for a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands that became a democracy only 15 years ago after holding its first free elections following three decades of brutal dictatorship that ended when strongman Suharto was overthrown in 1998. Indonesia, home to more than 240 million people, is the world’s most populous Muslim nation and the third-largest democracy after India and the United States.
But even though this year marks only the fourth time Indonesians have had the opportunity to pick their leaders, encouraging voters to visit the polls remains a challenge amid cronyism, money laundering and rampant corruption scandals ensnaring even politicians once largely believed to be clean.
Analysts say getting young people excited about the election is an even bigger challenge, especially with Twitter and Facebook exploding with negative comments about candidates in one of the world’s biggest users of social media.