More than 200m Indonesians to vote in world’s biggest single-day election

This combination photo shows Indonesia's presidential candidates Ganjar Pranowo (C), Prabowo Subianto (L) and Anies Baswedan speaking during the first presidential election debate in Jakarta on Dec. 12, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 13 February 2024

More than 200m Indonesians to vote in world’s biggest single-day election

  • Polls show Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of former dictator Suharto, in the lead
  • Incumbent president’s son is Subianto’s running mate after controversial court ruling

JAKARTA: More than 200 million Indonesians are expected to go to the polls on Wednesday in the world’s largest single-day election to choose not only a new president and vice president, but also parliamentary and local representatives.

The simultaneous presidential and legislative elections will determine who will succeed President Joko Widodo, who is serving his second and final term, as well as some 20,000 national, provincial, and district parliamentary positions.

The presidential election, which will mark Indonesia’s first change of leadership in a decade, is a three-way race between current Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

The 75-day presidential election campaign ended on Saturday, with several opinion polls showing Subianto in the lead.

General elections in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, are a massive undertaking, with over 204 million of the country’s 270 million population registered to vote across an archipelago made up of some 17,000 islands. Young people make up the majority of registered voters this year, over half of whom are aged between 17 and 40, according to the General Elections Commission.

This election season, the fifth since Southeast Asia’s largest economy began democratic reforms in 1998, has raised concerns that the country is in danger of sliding back toward its authoritarian past under the late military ruler Suharto who held power for over three decades.

“This election is crucial as it will determine whether we will be led by an element of the New Order, which was a dictatorship, or continue the leadership of candidates from the reformation era,” Saidiman Ahmad, researcher at Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, told Arab News.

Ahmad was alluding to Subianto, the former son-in-law of Suharto and former military general, who has been accused of human rights violations in East Timor and faced allegations of involvement in the kidnapping and torture of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998.

In his third race to become president — after twice losing to Widodo — Subianto has the incumbent leader’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his running mate.

The arrangement was possible after a controversial ruling by the constitutional court, headed by Widodo’s brother-in-law Anwar Usman, changed the eligibility criteria for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, allowing Raka to run alongside Subianto. Aged 36, Raka did not meet the previous constitutional requirement of 40 years to compete for the office.

Widodo, who presided over steady growth and relative stability during his back-to-back terms, has faced mounting criticism over his perceived political meddling and push to establish a political dynasty.

Didik Hariyanto, a lecturer at Paramadina University, told Arab News that this election is a “test for democracy and the spirit of the 1998 reform” in Indonesia.

“Why so? Because one of the contestants was involved in a process that concerns a ‘serious’ breach of ethics to run as a vice presidential candidate,” Hariyanto said, referring to an ethics council finding Usman guilty of making changes to election candidacy requirements.

“It so happens that the contestant in question is the child of President Joko Widodo, and there are concerns among the public that with the father’s power and in order to support his son, state instruments have been mobilized.”

Tunggal Pawestri, a women’s rights activist and executive director of Humanis Foundation, said the entire election process has been problematic.

“I think this is a threat to our democracy, a threat to the fruits of reformation that we have continued to fight for in the last 25 years. This election is controversial because it feels as if we are going back to the New Order era,” Pawestri told Arab News.

But the controversies also became a point of entry for 18-year-old voter Natasia, who started doing more research as the political developments piled up.

“I think the controversies surrounding the election this time around is why many young people are more interested in it,” she said. “I’ve considered all aspects, including their character and background. I want to vote because I want to support my choice of candidates with my voting right.”


Spain’s prime minister says Cabinet to recognize a Palestinian state

Updated 2 sec ago

Spain’s prime minister says Cabinet to recognize a Palestinian state

  • EU members Ireland and Spain to recognize Palestinian state as relations between the bloc and Israel nosedives
  • While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so
MADRID: Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the Spanish Cabinet will recognize a Palestinian state at its Tuesday morning meeting as a European Union rift with Israel widens.
Ireland and Norway were also to make official their recognition of a Palestinian state later in the day. While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so.
Sanchez, who announced his country’s decision before parliament last week, has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for recognition and a ceasefire in Gaza.
Relations between the EU and Israel nosedived Monday, the eve of the diplomatic recognition EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid insisting that sanctions should be considered against Israel for its continued deadly attacks in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Spain that its consulate in Jerusalem will not be allowed to help Palestinians.
At the same time, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell threw his weight to support the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including leaders of the Hamas militant group.

India’s space startup calls off maiden rocket launch for fourth time

Updated 8 min 15 sec ago

India’s space startup calls off maiden rocket launch for fourth time

  • Launches of India’s second privately built rocket had been aborted three times before because of technical issues
  • Cosmos’ Agnibaan is customisable, 2-stage launch vehicle that can take up to 300 kg of payload to orbits 700 km in altitude

BENGALURU: India’s Agnikul Cosmos called off a test flight of its first rocket on Tuesday seconds before it was due to launch — the fourth such cancelation in the last three months.
Launches of India’s second privately built rocket, and first using a combination of gas and liquid fuel, had been aborted three times before because of technical issues, including one flight that was canceled about 90 seconds before lift-off.
The launch, scheduled for 5:45 a.m. IST (0015 GMT) on Tuesday, was first delayed less than six minutes before lift-off “due to a technical glitch in the countdown activities,” and officials set a new lift-off time of 9:25 a.m.
Only five seconds before lift-off, however, the launch was put on “temporary hold to check igniter performance,” then was called off altogether.
The mission was expected to last two minutes and test the new “semi-cryogenic” engine and 3D-printed parts. If successful, it would have represented a technological step for India, whose Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has not yet successfully flown a semi-cryogenic engine, which uses a mix of liquid and gas for propellant.
Agnikul Cosmos’ Agnibaan rocket is a customisable, 2-stage launch vehicle that can take up to 300 kg (about 660 lb) of payload to orbits about 700 km in altitude (435 miles), the company said. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy can put up to 63,500 kgs to low Earth orbit.
India’s first privately developed rocket, from the company Skyroot, was flown from ISRO’s launch site in 2022.
Founded in 2017, Agnikul — whose name is derived from the Hindi and Sanskrit word for fire — runs the country’s first private launchpad and mission control center, while ISRO operates all other launchpads.

Cyclone kills 16 in India, Bangladesh and cuts power to millions

Updated 28 min 52 sec ago

Cyclone kills 16 in India, Bangladesh and cuts power to millions

  • Cyclone Remal is first of frequent storms expected to pound low-lying coasts of South Asian neighbors this year
  • More than 8.4 million people, including 3.2 million children, at high health, nutrition, sanitation, safety risk

SATKHIRA, Bangladesh: Strong gales and heavy rain triggered by the first major cyclone of the year lashed the coastlines of India and Bangladesh on Monday, killing at least 16 people and cutting power to millions.
The winds had not stopped as night fell, with water rising in many places and overwhelming drainage systems, Bangladeshi climate expert Liakath Ali said.
“Many people are stranded — it will be another long night ahead with millions not having electricity or shelter,” he said in a statement. “And people having no idea of how damaged their homes, land and livestock are.”
Cyclone Remal is the first of the frequent storms expected to pound the low-lying coasts of the South Asian neighbors this year as climate change drives up surface temperatures at sea.
Packing speeds of up to 135 kph, it crossed the area around Bangladesh’s southern port of Mongla and the adjoining Sagar Islands in India’s West Bengal late on Sunday, weather officials said, making landfall at about 9 p.m.
More than 8.4 million people, including 3.2 million children, are at high health, nutrition, sanitation and safety risk, said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh.
At least 10 people were killed in Bangladesh, disaster management chief Mijanur Rahman told Reuters, adding some victims died en route to shelters or when their homes or walls collapsed, or drowned during the storm.
“People are usually very reluctant to leave their livestock and homes to go to cyclone shelters,” he said. “They wait until the last minute when it is often too late.”
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Mohibbur Rahman said the cyclone destroyed nearly 35,000 homes across 19 districts. An additional 115,000 homes were partially damaged.
“Many areas remain waterlogged, and fish enclosures and trees have been devastated. As more information becomes available, the full scope of the impact will be clearer.”


In India’s West Bengal state, four people were electrocuted, authorities said, taking the death toll in the state to six.
Bangladesh shut down electricity supply to some areas in advance to avoid accidents, while in many coastal towns fallen trees and snapped electricity lines further disrupted supply, power ministry officials said.
Nearly 3 million people in Bangladesh were without electricity, officials added. West Bengal authorities said at least 1,200 power poles were uprooted, while 300 mud huts had been razed.
Bangladeshi State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid said in a Facebook post that Remal has caused extensive damage nationwide, urging people to be patient as repairs were under way.
“Our crews began repairing the lines as soon as the wind speed subsided,” he said.
The cyclone also disrupted around 10,000 telecom towers, leaving millions without mobile service.
The rain and high tides damaged some embankments and flooded coastal areas in the Sundarbans, home to some of the world’s largest mangrove forests, which are shared by India and Bangladesh.
Flooded roads disrupted travel in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. Rain also flooded many streets in the Indian city of Kolkata, with reports of wall collapses and at least 52 fallen trees.
Kolkata resumed flights after more than 50 were canceled from Sunday. Suburban train services were also restored.
Both nations moved nearly a million people to storm shelters, about 800,000 in Bangladesh and roughly 110,000 in India, authorities said.

Zuma’s party guns for ANC stronghold in South Africa vote

Updated 55 min 30 sec ago

Zuma’s party guns for ANC stronghold in South Africa vote

  • The emergence of uMkhonto we Sizwe, has increased tension in Kwazulu-Natal, a key election battleground already infamous for political violence

KWAXIMBA, South Africa: In a village nestled in the mountains of South Africa’s hotly-contested Kwazulu-Natal province, former President Jacob Zuma’s new party has campaigned relentlessly to win voters away from his old one, the ruling ANC.
On Monday, rival tents pitched by the two parties outside a local school serving as a polling station blasted party songs welcoming early voters they hoped to sway.
Most South Africans will vote on Wednesday but some, including the elderly and the infirm, were allowed to cast their ballots on Monday in what is expected to be the tightest election in decades.
The emergence of Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), has increased tension in Kwazulu-Natal, a key election battleground already infamous for political violence.
KwaXimba, a rural area dotted by thatched “rondavel” huts outside the eastern city of Durban, has been ruled by the African National Congress (ANC) since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
But many here revere Zuma, an ethnic Zulu, who was born in the province.
“We’ve needed change for a long time in our lives,” said Thokozani Mthembu, the MK’s local coordinator in KwaXimba.
Some opinion polls suggest that MK could win the most votes in Kwazulu-Natal. This would almost certainly condemn the ANC to its worst electoral result in three decades.
It could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time and be forced to form a coalition government.
Voting proceeded smoothly in KwaXimba during the day, but in a tense atmosphere.
Mthembu claims that after Zuma, 82, held a rally with hundreds of supporters in KwaXimba in January, the party received threats of violence from ANC supporters. Some voters were also wrongly told that the MK would take away social grants and free housing, he said.
The ANC denies all wrongdoing.
“From the day we started our campaign, we’ve had one goal, which is to win the election without threatening other parties,” Sihle Gwala, a local ANC leader, told AFP.
Earlier this month, police warned against “spreading statements that have a potential of inciting violence or create a state of panic in the communities” after a voice note circulated claiming that 11 people were killed in a politically-related shooting.
Many in KwaXimba have turned to the MK, lamenting continuous water and electricity shortages, which some blame on the ANC’s poor management.
Down the road from the school, chickens clucked in 66-year-old Nicolas Ndlovu’s yard, as he walked outside, waiting for election officials to reach his home and allow him to cast his early ballot.
Having fought for the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle and supported the party all his life, he said he now hoped to see it end up in opposition, so that “maybe they can work harder and earn the power back.”
His village’s streets, where cows roam under the sun, are plastered by campaign posters of the rival parties.
ANC volunteer Jabulile Nduna said the rift between Zuma and her party has caused divisions within her own family.
“I sat (down) my siblings and told them, ‘at the end of the day we have one mother and one father’... whether the MK wins or the ANC wins, we have to remain a family,” said the 43-year-old mother of three, as she walked on a gravel road near a voting station.
During a campaign visit to KwaXimba last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned voters about new parties trying to “nibble the edges” of ANC support, saying they would fail to win power.
But some like Nkazimula Makhanya are not heeding the call.
At 26 he has no job and few prospects of getting one, with youth unemployment at 45 percent.
“The old man, as old as he is, he still values our input, and he still allows us to be winners,” he said, referring to Zuma.

Parts of Bangladesh and India affected as storm floods villages, cuts power to millions

Updated 28 May 2024

Parts of Bangladesh and India affected as storm floods villages, cuts power to millions

  • About 3.7 million people along Bangladesh’s coast were affected, disaster ministry says
  • Bangladesh, a delta nation of nearly 170 million people, has a history of violent storms

DHAKA, Bangladesh: The weakening tropical storm Remal flooded dozens of coastal villages and left nearly 30 million people without power Monday in southern Bangladesh and eastern India. At least 10 people died in Bangladesh.
About 3.7 million people along the coast were affected, said Bangladesh’s junior minister for disaster management and relief, Mohibbur Rahman. More than 35,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 115,000 were damaged. Nearly 800,000 people were evacuated from vulnerable areas on Sunday.
Bangladesh, a delta nation of nearly 170 million people, has a history of violent storms. Disaster preparedness programs have upgraded the capacity to tackle natural disasters, resulting in fewer casualties. Changing climate patterns have increased storms’ intensity, making preparations more urgent.
Remal weakened after making landfall in Bangladesh’s Patuakhali district early Monday, with sustained winds of 111 kilometers (69 miles) per hour. India’s Meteorological Department said it was likely to weaken throughout the day, but warned of heavy showers over Assam and other northeastern states for the next two days.
India’s Kolkata airport reopened after being shut Sunday. Bangladesh shut the airport in the country’s second largest city, Chattogram, and canceled all domestic flights to and from the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Loading and unloading at Chittagong seaport was halted.
Strong rain and winds battered the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. Many roads were submerged. Authorities ordered all government officials to stay at their stations until the situation improved.
Aid agencies said they deployed thousands of volunteers in Rohingya refugee camps and other affected areas to provide emergency support. Bangladesh has sprawling camps housing more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar.
In India’s West Bengal state, thatched roofs on houses were blown away and electric poles and trees were uprooted in some coastal districts. Heavy downpours inundated streets and homes in low-lying areas of Kolkata. All schools in the region were closed until further notice.