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Indonesia divided in close presidential race

JAKARTA--As the world's third-largest democracy prepares to elect a new president Wednesday, Indonesians are divided between two very different choices: a one-time furniture maker and a wealthy ex-army general with close links to former dictator Suharto.

Just a few months ago, the election was considered firmly in favor of Joko Widodo, who rose from humble beginnings to become the governor of Jakarta with a squeaky clean political record.

But the race is now too close to call after a late surge by Prabowo Subianto, who has wooed legions of supporters with his calls for nationalism despite allegations of widespread human rights abuses during his military career and his connection with Suharto — his former father-in-law.

When the polls open to around 190 million eligible voters on Wednesday, analysts say those who are undecided will determine the winner.

The two candidates are vastly different in their policies and styles. Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, is a soft-spoken man who likes to wear sneaketrs and casual plaid shirts, listen to heavy metal music and make impromptu visits to the slums. Seen as a man of the people who wants to advance democratic reform even though he lacks experience in national politics, he represents a break from the past as the first candidate in direct elections with no connection to Suharto-era politics.

Subianto is known for his thundering campaign speeches, a penchant for luxury cars and having trotted up to one rally on an expensive horse. He has the support of the most hard-line Islamic parties and has sparked concern among foreign investors worried about protectionism and a possible return to more authoritative policies.

“Many Indonesian Muslims prefer Prabowo's strong and dynamic character, which can stand up in facing the foreign policies of neighboring countries and the U.S,” said Ikrar Nusabhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesia Institute of Science. “While other people are responding positively to Jokowi's caring and earthy traits.”

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