Authorities in Indonesia were preparing to host the world's biggest single-day election spanned across 17,000 islands on Wednesday, where more than 200 million people will exercise their democratic right to elect a new president.
More than 25,000 police have been deployed to ensure security in the tightly-contested election seen as a test of democracy for the Southeast Asian country, more than 25 years after the end of an authoritarian rule.
The polls in the world’s third-largest democracy, closely watched by the US and China, would also elect future executives and legislative representatives at administration levels.
Opinion polls have projected that in a three-way contest, Prabowo Subianto – 72-year-old incumbent defence minister and former military general – could secure more than 50 per cent of the votes.
His rivals – Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta and Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java – were seen at least 27 and 31 points behind him respectively.
If none of the candidates manage to secure more than 50 per cent of the national votes and at least 20 per cent in each province in the first round, a runoff between the top two is scheduled for 26 June.
Outgoing president Joko Widodo, who has presided over the steady growth of the mineral-rich Group of 20 economy for the past decade, has been criticised for his political meddling in the 14 February elections. He has been accused of promoting Mr Prabowo by making highly publicised appearances with the controversial military commander.
Mr Prabowo is running in a joint ticket with Mr Joko's eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as the vice presidential candidate.
Mr Joko's office, however, denies the president explicitly endorsing Mr Prabowo and flouting election rules. Sitting presidents in Indonesia can campaign for candidates provided they do not use state resources and must take official leave to do so.
Critics accuse Mr Joko of using his government resources to boost Mr Prabowo to retain influence even after leaving office after his second and final term.
The president has also distanced himself from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, under whose banner he ran in 2014 and 2019, since the party nominated Ganjar Pranowo and Mohammad Mahfud, as presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Hundreds of students on Monday held street protests against alleged democratic backsliding under Mr Joko.
Amid the protests, election officials delivered ballot boxes and papers to far-flung regions across three time zones, in some cases travelling hours by boat, helicopter or ox-drawn carts.
Apart from the three main contenders for the president's office, tens of thousands of candidates across the nation are battling for some 20,000 national, provincial and district parliamentary positions.
About 10,000 candidates from 18 political parties are contesting for spots in the 580-seat national parliament alone.
Political parties are required to have a woman in at least every third position in their party list, and parties need at least 4 per cent of votes across the country to qualify for representation in the parliament.
Nearly 205 million voters aged above the age of 17 will cast their ballots on Wednesday at over 820,000 polling stations. Indonesians living overseas have been casting votes since 5 February at 3,000 polling stations in many countries or by mail.
The Muslim-majority nation has been a key battleground near the South China Sea where the US, China along with regional players are vying for political dominance.
The outgoing president's foreign policy avoids criticism of Beijing and Washington but also rejects alignment with either power. The delicate balancing act has won considerable Chinese trade and investment for Indonesia, including a $7.3bn high-speed railway that was largely funded by China, while Jakarta has also boosted defense ties and intensified military exercises with the US.
"None of the major structural features of defense and foreign policy, I think, will change," said Evan Laksmana, a Southeast Asia security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, told the Associated Press.
The official vote-counting process is expected to take up to 35 days to be completed, the maximum time regulated by the Elections Law.
The early results, widely known as a "quick count," are considered a reliable indicator of what the official count will show when all votes are tallied in about a month.
The new president will be inaugurated on 20 October and will have to appoint a cabinet within two weeks.
Additional reporting by agencies