Indonesian defence minister extends poll lead ahead of presidential election

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s defence minister, a former commander of its special forces, topped an opinion poll published on Wednesday, as candidates prepared to register for a presidential race next year that is expected to be close.

Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java, have dominated surveys prior to elections in the trillion-dollar G20 economy that is the world’s third-largest democracy, trailed by former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

Pollster Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI) said 34% of respondents would vote for Prabowo in a nationwide telephone poll of 1,206 people in September that had a 2.9% margin of error.

The shares of those choosing Ganjar and Anies, respectively, were 30.4% and 22%, while 13% did not answer or said they did not know.

In a two-way runoff, Prabowo would win over Ganjar by about 11 points, the pollster’s chief, Djayadi Hanan, told a press conference.

“Prabowo Subianto had an 11.3% advantage,” he said. “This is quite a significant advantage.”

Swing or undecided voters numbered about 40%, Burhanuddin Muhtadi, an analyst with pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, told the conference.

The number of those undecided may reflect the fact that none of the three men has formally registered to be a candidate yet, said Philips J. Vermonte, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

All three, and their running mates, are expected to formally register between Oct. 19 and 25. Anies is the only one to have declared a running mate.

About 205 million voters are registered to vote in simultaneous presidential and legislative elections on Feb. 14, the election commission says.

Prabowo, 71, comes from an elite Indonesian family and commands a huge following, despite unproven accusations of human rights violations over the kidnapping of democracy activists during economic and political turmoil in the late 1990s.

He has denied wrongdoing.

Prabowo, who lost in consecutive bids to become president in 2014 and 2019, has gained momentum after embarking on a rebranding campaign in which he reached out to young people with a sophisticated social media presence.

Analysts are watching closely to see who wins the backing of the hugely popular incumbent Joko Widodo, who is not standing himself as he is limited to two five-year terms.

Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, has voiced support for Ganjar, a fellow member of his ruling Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

But tension between him and PDI-P chief Megawati Sukarnoputri, along with his more frequent public appearances with Prabowo, have led analysts to suggest he is still weighing his choice.

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)