Leading contender: Aburizal Bakrie
It is 15 months before the first round of the Indonesian presidential election but the incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, entered lame duck territory some time ago.
He cannot contest again, having almost finished his second term. But this vast country with 175 million electors has all but moved on from his decade in power, judging him weak and indecisive.
Political positioning for his successor has become a national obsession and Australia's political elites, who have found SBY outward-looking and easy to work with, are watching closely.
SBY's party is so racked with corruption scandals it cannot even name a potential candidate, and all but one of the other pretenders constitute a rogue's gallery of Suharto-era generals, businessmen and politicians.
''What we have is bad apples,'' says Philips Vermonte of Indonesia's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, ''but we have to eat them.''
The favourite is a former army hard man with a murky past who, if he were to apply for a visitor's visa to Australia, would probably be rejected because of human rights violations.
But Prabowo, the former head of army special forces unit Kopassus, has spent the past five years civilising his image within Indonesia and is leading in most polls - as unreliable as these can be.
The head of his own political party, Gerindra, Prabowo projects decisiveness, in contrast to the dithering incumbent.
With talk of ''better-guided democracy'' he prompts voters to reminisce about the Suharto era, now viewed by many in rose-coloured retrospect as a time when things simply got done without the noise and mess of the present era.
Despite the huge wealth of the family business, which is bankrolling his tilt at the presidency, Prabowo styles himself as a simple goat farmer at heart, a man of the common people.
But all his hard work and money cannot keep the past from spilling into the present.
Several tours of duty in East Timor have led to a number of disputed accounts about his involvement in massacres, but it is the chaos surrounding the fall of Suharto in 1998 that gave rise to the most serious questions over his character.
As students led the widespread marches against the government that year, Prabowo had nine protesters kidnapped and tortured. He has admitted to that, and was dishonourably discharged from the army as a result. But he continues to deny responsibility for 13 other students who are missing, presumed dead.
Witnesses say Prabowo was active in whipping up anti-Chinese riots that killed 1000 people and prompted 168 reports of rape.
Prabowo was also accused of massing his troops in Jakarta in preparation for a coup against Suharto's successor, B.J. Habibie. Prabowo has regularly said since then that he could have launched such a coup but did not because he had too much respect for the constitution.
Recently he has added a joke to the patter, saying: ''Now, considering the condition of [the country] today, I regret not having done that.''
An Australian Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said visits to Australia by Indonesian politicians ''play an important role'' in fostering mutual understanding, but declined to comment on whether Prabowo would be admitted. The United States is not so shy: he is on its blacklist.
Governments in both countries are pragmatic enough to lift any travel restrictions if Prabowo becomes president, but it does not mean they will like it.
Bakrie is the second of the top three candidates. But this is less to do with his popularity (which is abysmal) than with the fact that he heads the Golkar party, the former party of Suharto and still an electoral juggernaut. Bakrie's woes come from his manifold and murky business dealings.
At one time the richest man in Indonesia, he has since dropped out of the top 40, but Bakrie & Brothers, founded on natural resources and property, is still a massive enterprise with a market capitalisation of about $10 billion. You do not get rich in Indonesia without some skeletons, and Bakrie has at least the expected number.
London financier Nathaniel Rothschild tied himself to Bakrie in a business deal that went badly wrong and last year he accused the Bakries of ''disappearing'' $1 billion from their joint London-listed company, Bumi Resources. Even the Bakries agree $US394 million has gone missing.
Twice the Bakrie company has been bailed out of near bankruptcy. It has a remarkable ability to avoid paying international debts or local taxes. In an argument over tax, Bakrie was accused of paying a $7 million bribe through a corrupt official to avoid a much larger settlement and of hounding the country's popular and competent finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, out of the country in 2010. She is now a managing director of the World Bank.
But Bakrie's biggest crime in the eyes of ordinary Indonesians is that in 2006 an entire town in East Java, Sidoarjo, disappeared under the world's biggest mud volcano, caused, according to scientific evidence, by negligent drilling by a Bakrie-linked company.
The Bakries have since relied on a ruling by the country's Supreme Court to argue they were not at fault, but they have agreed to pay compensation to 9000 desperate and displaced villagers. Despite regular protests from the victims, the compensation payment remains $83 million short.
Last year Bakrie visited Australia as part of an attempt to appear statesmanlike. Dr Marcus Mietzner, of the Australian National University's college of Asia and the Pacific, spent time with him on that trip, saying he was ''pretty impressive'' talking to academics and economists because ''he enjoys robust intellectual debate with counterparts he considers of equal or similar status''.
''But he is clearly uncomfortable when forced to make small talk with farmers or fishermen in dirty villages under the scorching sun. That's just not his world.''
The hardy perennial in the faux presidential race is Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's founding president, Sukarno. She regularly polls about 20 per cent, but her two failed presidential bids in 2004 and 2009 suggest to most that she will never get much above that.
She was widely considered indecisive and unpopular as president between 2001 and 2004 (she was never elected, but stepped up from vice-president when predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid was impeached).
She cannot seem to decide if she wants to run in 2014 for her PDIP party, and even her outspoken husband, Taufiq Kiemas, opposes her candidacy. He prefers their daughter, Puan Maharani, whom most Indonesians believe is not up to the task.
On current indications, the most popular politician in Indonesia, and the one with the best chance of a runaway win, is the new governor of Jakarta, universally known as Jokowi.
Jokowi is the former mayor of Solo in central Java and has been running Jakarta - where he confronts the highest expectations and the most entrenched problems - only for six months, so he has little record to speak of apart from a popular healthcare card and some ideas about reducing flooding.
In his early 40s, he is a generation younger than the Suharto-era hangovers who lead the other parties and he's universally regarded as clean of their taint of corruption.
But he is a member of Megawati's party, and she may yet be determined to run herself. If his public comments are to be trusted, he has no desire for the post. Wise heads are urging him to seek the office now while he is still popular, and not wait until he is bested by Jakarta's intractable dysfunction.