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July 22, 2017

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Indonesians cast votes in huge one-day election

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Polls opened Wednesday for nearly 187 million Indonesians eligible to vote in single-day legislative elections, a huge feat in the still-young democracy that's expected to help clear the path for the country's next president.

After three weeks of peaceful outdoor campaigning, voters across three time zones cast their ballots for members of national as well as local legislatures and representatives. The voting took place at more than a half million makeshift booths from the eastern restive Papua province to the devout Muslim province of Aceh in the west.

For many, the election was more about supporting a specific party than voting for individual candidates, to help boost the chances for their favorite presidential hopeful in the July 9 elections. Parties need to secure 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives or 25 percent of the overall vote to nominate a presidential candidate. Otherwise, a coalition must be formed with one or more parties to enter the competition.

Many believe Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, known affectionately as Jokowi, is a shoo-in for the top job. The newcomer is adored by the masses for his simple style and willingness to meet and connect with the poor. He was topping opinion polls months before his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, announced that he would be their presidential nominee in March.

On Wednesday, he cast his ballot alongside his wife in the sprawling capital. Both were wearing white button-down shirts, jeans and sneakers as they were thronged by a pack of around 200 journalists.

"I'm very confident that my party will do very well," said Widodo in English. "My party will win very strong, and my party will take the majority."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, and his ruling Democratic Party has been ensnared in a spate of high-profile corruption scandals.

Indonesia, a nation of 240 million, is the world's third-largest democracy after India and the United States, and is the most populous Muslim nation — although there are no fundamentalist parties. The 12 main parties are either secular nationalists or moderate loosely based on Islam. A recent survey showed support for Islamic parties had plunged.

There also are no left-wing groupings, and the once-formidable Indonesian Communist Party — which long-time strongman Suharto's U.S.-backed dictatorship decimated in the 1960s — remains banned.

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