Indonesia’s single-day presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections on April 17 will be a mammoth exercise. It will also test the popular mood on President Joko Widodo’s moderation, which has been under attack from the religious right. Popularly known as Jokowi, he is seeking a second and final term, as Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, approaches 75 years since gaining independence from the Netherlands in 1945. Mr. Jokowi, a former Jakarta governor, from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, faces Prabowo Subianto, a former army general, of the Great Indonesia Movement Party; they had clashed in the 2014 race too. Opinion polls show Mr. Jokowi winning comfortably. The roughly 5% rate of growth in GDP in the last few quarters is well below the President’s 7% target, but is still an improvement over previous years. Sentiment has also turned positive since the rupiah regained its value after the slide during the 2018 currency crises in emerging markets and the return of capital flows. Jakarta’s current account deficit, owing to a slump in exports, could cause concern unless the U.S.-China trade dispute is settled amicably. But the liberal-leaning President’s challenges are linked to the poll-time rise in religious tensions.
In the 2014 contest, Mr. Jokowi’s opponents played the identity card by claiming that he, a Javanese Muslim, was a Christian and a communist. In 2017, an ethnic Chinese and Christian successor of Mr. Jokowi as Jakarta governor was convicted of blasphemy soon after re-election. The government’s subsequent ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organisation wedded to the establishment of an international caliphate, underscored the difficulties in balancing conflicting political interests. Rising religious militancy in some regions of Indonesia has also endangered the rights of the LGBTQ community, denting the country’s record of respect for cultural pluralism and tolerance of heterodox social behaviour. While the constitutional court in 2017 rejected a bid to ban same-sex marriages, human rights groups are concerned over the lack of anti-discrimination protections for gay persons. Mr. Jokowi’s choice of an orthodox Islamic cleric as running mate is being viewed as an attempt to boost his religious credentials. In a unique Indonesian electoral operation, votes for thousands of seats, fought by hundreds of thousands of candidates at various levels, are tabulated manually in full public view during daylight hours. Final results of the April 17 polls are expected after weeks. The complex nature of the process and provision for quick counts based on a sample of the actual votes cast have in the past led rival camps to trade accusations of manipulation and intimidation. Mr. Jokowi, whose party narrowly won the 2014 legislative and presidential vote after spectacular poll ratings, would be acutely aware of the high stakes involved. A nascent democracy, Indonesia will hope to see through this transition with fortitude.