Vote counting starts in Indonesia's regional polls under tight security

Baduy women wait to cast their vote during regional elections at a polling station of Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
A Baduy woman receives a ballot paper to cast her vote during regional elections at Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
People vote at a World Cup themed polling station during local elections in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia June 27, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/ Rivan Early Linga/ via REUTERS
A Baduy woman casting her vote during regional elections at a polling station of Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
An Indonesian woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote during regional elections in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, Indonesia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
A man examines a notic board with voting information at a polling station before casting his ballot during regional elections in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, Indonesia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
Baduy people queue to cast their vote as others carry tree trunks in front of a polling station during regional elections at Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
Baduy women talk behind ballot boxes while casting their vote during regional elections at Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
A Baduy woman casts her vote during regional elections at a polling station of Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
Election officials dress as ghosts at a polling station for local elections in Randusari village, Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia June 27, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/R. Rekotomo/ via REUTERS
An election official helps an elderly woman to mark her finger with ink after casting her vote during regional elections in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, Indonesia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
An election official records votes for mayoral candidates running unopposed in regional elections in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
Balinese vote in local elections at a polling station decorated in a World Cup theme in Badung Regency, on the Bali, Indonesia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
Baduy women carry tree trunks as they walk in front of polling station for regional elections at Kanekes village in Rangkasbitung, Banten province, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
An Indonesian woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote during regional elections in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, Indonesia, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
Election officials prepare for the start of voting for local elections at a polling station with a World Cup theme in Badung, Bali, Indonesia June 27, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana/ via REUTERS
Election officals wearing traditional Balinese costume prepare ballots for counting after polls closed at a polling station during local elections in Badung Regency, Bali, Indonesia June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo

By Nilufar Rizki and Yuddy Cahya

DEPOK, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesian officials started counting votes after tens of millions cast their ballots in regional elections held across the world's third-largest democracy and biggest Muslim-majority country on Wednesday.

The elections for 171 city mayors, regents, and provincial governors are likely to set the tone for national parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019, with some hardline Islamic leaders now publicly calling for the ousting of President Joko Widodo, who is expected to seek a second term.

Widodo has pledged to protect Indonesia's tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam in the officially secular country.

Opinion polls suggest candidates backed by parties supporting Widodo will win in key provinces like West Java, boosting his re-election chances in what is expected to be a re-run of the 2014 contest between Widodo and retired general Prabowo Subianto.

Results from the regional elections will be an important factor for parties deciding who they back as their presidential candidate since local leaders can help mobilize support. Presidential candidates need to be declared by August 10.

Quick counts, based on early tallies of a sample of votes, are expected to start coming in a few hours after polls close at 1pm (0600 GMT) and have previously given an accurate assessment. Official results are expected on July 9.

TIGHT SECURITY

Indonesia is on high alert after a series of suicide attacks in Surabaya city killed 30 people last month, in the deadliest militant Islamist attacks in over a decade.

Last week, one of Indonesia's highest-profile Islamic State supporters was sentenced to death for his involvement in a series of attacks, and experts have warned of a risk of retaliatory attacks from his supporters.

National police and military have deployed over 170,000 personnel to secure the polls, as voters cast ballots in polling booths set up in schools, town halls, and outdoor tents.

There have been no reports of unrest so far and police declared as false rumors on social media of voter intimidation in some parts of the country with sizeable ethnic Chinese communities.

At some voting stations in Java and on the resort island of Bali there was a festive feel, with polling booths decked out in a World Cup theme and election officials dressed in soccer jerseys.

More than 160 million people are registered to vote and over half of them are on Java, where West Java province's population of 47 million alone is roughly equivalent to Spain.

Observers will be watching for Islamist influence on voters after a bitterly fought contest for the Jakarta governorship last year exposed deep religious and ethnic rifts in the officially secular country.

Some voters complained that religious issues had been overplayed in the election campaigns.

"What I can feel about the West Java election, politics cloaked with religion is very obvious here," said Arma Putra, 26, an unemployed resident in Bekasi.

(Additional reporting by Tabita Diela, Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Jessica Damiana in Jakarta and Johannes P. Christo in Denpasar; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)

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