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Indonesians ready for world's biggest single-day polls

Most opinion polls give President Joko a double-digit lead but the opposition has disputed survey findings

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Members of Indonesia's Public Order Service taking down election campaign banners on Sunday, following the end of the campaigning period ahead of the April 17 polls.

Jakarta

TENS of millions of Indonesians will vote in presidential and parliamentary elections this week after campaigns focused on the economy, but with political Islam looming ever larger in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

President Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman who launched his political career as a small-city mayor, is standing for re-election in a contest with ex-general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in 2014.

Most opinion polls give Mr Joko a double-digit lead but the opposition has disputed survey findings. It has also said that it has uncovered data irregularities affecting millions on the electoral rolls, and has vowed to take legal action or use "people power" if its complaints are not resolved.

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Some analysts said that an unexpected win for the challenger would probably cause a brief slump in Indonesian markets, while a very close race could elevate the risk of a disputed vote.

"In a scenario in which Jokowi wins by an unexpectedly narrow margin, large and prolonged protests in Jakarta would elevate tensions and pressure the currency," Kevin O'Rourke, a political analyst and author of Reformasi Weekly, said in the Indonesia-focused newsletter last week.

While most polls have put the president ahead, they could not be taken for granted, a senior government official said. "Absolutely everybody is flying blind because we don't know how far the opinion polls can be respected," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr Joko ended his six-month campaign with a mass rally at Jakarta's main stadium at the weekend, where festive crowds overflowed into a surrounding park and streets.

Running ran out on stage in sneakers to the cheers of the crowd after an hours-long concert by local bands, he struck an optimistic tone for the future of the world's third-largest democracy.

That was a stark contrast to his opponent, who has repeatedly warned that Indonesia is on the verge of collapse. Mr Prabowo, as he is usually known, held a similarly big rally the previous weekend where supporters - many dressed in Islamic robes - held a mass prayer before he gave a fiery speech about how Indonesia was being pillaged by foreigners and the elite.

Mr Joko has touted a record infrastructure drive and deregulation as major successes during his tenure, calling it a first step to tackle inequality and poverty in South-east Asia's biggest economy.

In a televised weekend debate, Mr Joko and his running mate, Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, said that their opponents - neither of whom have served in public office for more than a few months - did not understand managing macro level economics.

Mr Joko, a moderate Muslim from central Java, has 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.

Mr Prabowo, who has close links to some hardline Islamist groups, and his running mate - business tycoon Sandiaga Uno - have pledged to boost the economy by slashing taxes as much as eight percentage points, and focus on key infrastructure projects.

Nearly 500,000 police and military personnel will fan out across the vast archipelago to safeguard the vote. In Jakarta, the capital, officers will guard polling stations to deter voter intimidation or clashes, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

More than 192 million people will vote in the national and regional legislative elections, which are being contested by more than 245,000 candidates, in what is being described as the world's biggest single-day election.

Overseas voting is already underway, with thousands lining up outside Indonesian missions in Singapore and Australia.

On Wednesday, polling stations will open at 7 am (2200 GMT Tuesday) in eastern Indonesia and close at 1 pm (0600 GMT) on the western side of the country.

Voters will manually punch five separate paper ballots for president and vice-president, and legislative candidates.

Unofficial "quick counts", based on vote samples from polling stations, will be released hours after polling ends. The winning presidential candidate is expected to be apparent by late Wednesday. REUTERS