Indonesian President, Rival in Full Campaign Mode Ahead of April Polls

Ahmad Syamsudin
190325_ID_Election_1000.JPG Joko Widodo, the incumbent in Indonesia’s upcoming presidential election, takes pictures with supporters during his first campaign rally at a stadium in Serang, Banten province, March 24, 2019.

The campaigns of incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and opponent Prabowo Subianto have swung into high gear in the final few weeks before Indonesia’s presidential election next month, with recent polls showing the latter gaining ground on his rival.

Both the presidential candidates must persuade undecided voters to go to polling stations, analysts said, as recent surveys indicated that the number of people who had not made up their minds ranged from 11 percent to as much as 33 percent of the electorate.

Over the weekend both campaigns kicked off their first large outdoor rallies in the run-up to the April 17 vote, when Southeast Asia’s largest nation will hold its first simultaneous elections for parliament and the presidency.

Most polls point to Jokowi being on track for reelection and riding on the successes of his infrastructure drive, including the recent launch of Jakarta’s first metro system. But Prabowo could pull off a win, according to analysts.

“Prabowo still stands a chance because even though Jokowi still has a two-digit lead, his electability is dropping, while Prabowo’s is rising,” Adi Prayitno, a political analyst at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, told BenarNews.

“This should be an alarm bell going off for the Jokowi camp,” he said.

Jokowi was favored by 49.2 percent, while support for Prabowo stood at 37.4 percent, according to a survey released last week by pollster Litbang Kompas. About 13 percent of respondents did not disclose their preferences.

The numbers appear to show the gap narrowing between the two candidates. An October poll by Kompas indicated that Jokowi had a comfortable lead of nearly 20 percent. Several other surveys released earlier this month put Jokowi’s electability at between 54 and 57 percent, compared with around 34 percent for Prabowo.

During a campaign speech on Sunday in Serang, Banteng province, Jokowi appealed for unity among residents of the diverse and sprawling Muslim-majority country made up of many islands.

“Our great country is blessed by God with religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences,” the president told the crowd. “Let us together preserve the unity, because we are one nation.”

Jokowi will face Prabowo, a retired general in the army’s special forces, in a repeat of the 2014 presidential election that propelled the incumbent to a first term.

Prabowo has benefited from the zealousness of his supporters when the Jokowi camp appeared complacent, Adi said.

“Both candidates must pitch aggressively to undecided voters,” he added.

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (center), a former military general, is welcomed by his supporters in Mojokerto, West Java province, Feb. 24, 2019. [AFP]
Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (center), a former military general, is welcomed by his supporters in Mojokerto, West Java province, Feb. 24, 2019. [AFP]

‘I will fight!’

Prabowo did just that during a campaign rally in Merauke, Papua province, on Monday.

“The elite in Jakarta have failed this nation,” news website quoted Prabowo as telling a crowd of supporters in the mineral-rich far eastern province, where armed separatist groups have fought the Indonesian military for years. “With all due respect, I don’t mean to find faults, but I don’t mince words,” he said.

“The elite only protect their own interests. All they do is collect wealth for themselves and their families,” added Prabowo, the former son-in-law of the late Indonesian dictator Suharto, who was one of the country’s richest men.

Jokowi, for his part, showed a combative side in a speech in front of thousands of his supporters in Yogyakarta on Saturday.

“I have been silent for 4½ years. I have been slandered, I have been accused of things, I was vilified and looked down on, but I have been silent. But today, in Yogyakarta I say, I will fight!” he said, to the cheers of his supporters who shouted: “Fight! Fight!”

Jokowi was alluding to accusations that he was a communist who had lied about his education, as well as attacks on his character that questioned his Islamic faith and fitness to lead the country.

Analysts said Jokowi was likely to tout his achievements in building infrastructure, including a network of toll roads on Java and Sumatra islands, as well as Jakarta’s Mass Rapid Transit, the country’ first metro system, which he inaugurated on Sunday.

But Jokowi and his running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, should be worried about Prabowo’s late surge, said University of Indonesia political analyst Aditya Perdana.

“The Prabowo campaign is likely to attack the government’s economic record,” Aditya told BenarNews.

Under Jokowi's presidency, economic growth has stagnated at about 5 percent. In September 2018, the rupiah fell to its lowest level since the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.

The country is also grappling with a widening current account deficit.

Ujang Komarudin, a political lecturer at Al Azhar University in Jakarta, said debates among the presidential and vice presidential contenders were more likely to convince swing voters than rallies.

The final two televised debates are scheduled for March 30 and April 13.

“Campaign rallies could affect undecided voters but not in a big way,” Ujang told BenarNews.

“Open campaign rallies will only show how many people candidates can mobilize, but to influence undecided voters, debates are more effective,” he said.

Zoned campaigning

Indonesia’s General Election Commission (KPU) has set campaign zoning for the presidential candidates and their running mates, with each scheduled to attend rallies in 17 provinces in the three weeks leading up to the vote.

A member of the Jokowi campaign team, Lukman Edy, said all political parties supporting the incumbent would mobilize their members so they could attend every rally.

“They will all go out campaigning, including Mr Jokowi, Mr Ma’ruf, chairs of coalition parties and legislative candidates,” Lukman told BenarNews.

Analysts said Jokowi had picked as his running mate Ma’ruf, the conservative 76-year-old chairman of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars (MUI), to fend off accusations from hardline Islamic groups that he was hostile to them.

Conservative religious groups such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) have rallied around Prabowo in their short-term goal to prevent Jokowi from being re-elected

While Ma’ruf has moderated his comments to appeal to more liberal voters, the Prabowo camp has sought to portray its vice-presidential pick, Sandiago Uno, a wealthy 49-year-old businessman educated in the United States, as a pious Muslim.

A member of the Prabowo campaign, Drajad Wibowo said, his team would focus on South Sulawesi, Central Java and East Java – areas known as strongholds for Jokowi’s supporters.

“We will pitch our programs such as tax cuts and housing,” he said.

Arie Firdaus in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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