Indonesia's Widodo on course for victory

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his wife Iriana cast their ballots in Jakarta.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his wife Iriana cast their ballots in Jakarta.

Joko Widodo appears to be heading for victory in Indonesia's presidential election as "quick count" results from polling stations were posted, in line with opinion polls that had predicted a second five-year term for the low-key reformist.

Data from six private pollsters - based on partial counts of vote samples - showed that Widodo was winning just over half of the vote and his challenger, former general Prabowo Subianto, was between 5.5 and 11.4 percentage points behind him.

The best numbers for the president came from the Jakarta-based pollster CSIS, which put Widodo at 55.7 per cent and Prabowo at 44.3 per cent, after more than three-quarters of its sample had been counted.

A former furniture-maker who grew up in a riverside slum and the first national leader to come from outside the political and military elite. Popularly known as Jokowi, his everyman image resonated in 2014 with voters tired of the old guard.

That election was also a contest with Prabowo, former son-in-law of military strongman Suharto who was overthrown in 1998.

The popular vote gap between the two men five years ago was about 6 percentage points.

The eight-hour vote on Wednesday for both the presidency and legislature seats across a country that stretches more than 5000 km from its western to eastern tips was both a Herculean logistical feat and testimony to the resilience of democracy two decades after authoritarianism was defeated.

The poll followed a campaign dominated by economic issues but was also marked by the growing influence of conservative Islam in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

A senior government official close to the president said before the election that a win for Widodo with 52-55 per cent of the vote would be a "sweet spot", and enough of a mandate to press on with, and even accelerate, reforms.

However, a Widodo campaign aide said the president's victory appeared far from convincing.

"It's a slim margin ... a very difficult win," said the aide, who declined to be identified.

"Jokowi's programs are long term. Most people don't yet feel the benefits of the last five years. It's amazing people still support him for the long term."

The official election results will not be published until May. Any disputes can be taken to the Constitutional Court where a nine-judge panel will have 14 days to rule on them.

More than 10,000 volunteers crowd-sourced results posted at polling stations in a real-time bid to thwart attempts at fraud.

Widodo campaigned on his record of deregulation and improving infrastructure, calling his first term a step to tackling inequality and poverty in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

But religion has also been a factor. Conservative Muslim groups have been increasingly influential.

Widodo, a moderate Muslim from Java island, had to burnish his Islamic credentials after smear campaigns and hoax stories accused him of being anti-Islam, a communist or too close to China, all politically damaging in Indonesia. He picked Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, 76, as his running mate.

Prabowo, a former special forces commander who has links to some hardline Muslim groups, and his running mate, business entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno, pledged to boost the economy by slashing taxes and cutting food prices.

Australian Associated Press