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Indonesia set for presidential vote, ex-general tipped to win

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesians vote in a presidential election Wednesday with Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto the clear favorite after a campaign mixing nationalist rhetoric and pledges to continue the era of popular outgoing leader Joko Widodo.

The former general lost to Widodo in 2014 and 2019 but is on course to finally lead the world's third-largest democracy after rehabilitating his image.

Widodo is constitutionally barred from running for a third term but his popularity hit all-time highs last year with polls showing he would have likely won another election.

Instead he is playing kingmaker for his defence chief and eldest son, who have joined forces on the same ticket.

Polls project Subianto to win a majority from nearly 205 million Indonesians who will dip their finger in halal ink at more than 800,000 polling stations across the volcano-dotted archipelago.

"What do I like? His persistence. For me, he cares about the people," said Wilhelmina, a 51-year-old housewife in the capital Jakarta who goes by one name.

Battling the 72-year-old for a potential second-round run-off vote if he falls short are former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

NGOs and his former military bosses accuse Subianto of ordering the abduction of democracy activists at the end of dictator Suharto's rule in the late 1990s, but his new "cuddly grandpa" persona has won over younger voters.

Wilhelmina joined student protests when Subianto allegedly targeted them but says she has forgiven him.

"That figure was in the past," she said.

The defence chief's strongman credentials as a former special forces leader, his new social media image and the addition of Widodo's eldest son have boosted his appeal.

The decision to recruit Gibran Rakabuming Raka courted controversy after Widodo's brother-in-law passed a ruling to lower the age for candidates.

Their campaign surged after the 36-year-old was allowed to run.

The younger Widodo's popularity is tied to his father, who took Indonesia out of the Covid-19 pandemic relatively unscathed and back to five percent growth.

So analysts say the vote will be a referendum on Widodo and Subianto's