Indonesian President Joko Widodo has launched his re-election campaign, hoping to win over the country’s millennial and Muslim voters as Southeast Asia’s biggest economy tackles its many political challenges.
With the launch of his campaign on Friday in the run-up to elections due on April 17 next year, Widodo seeks to repeat his defeat of Prabowo Subianto, a retired special forces commander, in 2014 when the former furniture salesman had won a narrow victory after a fierce battle.
Each leader is pushing a nationalist economic platform, but issues of race and religion loom large in the battle to run the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
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“Differences in voting are fine, but don’t forget our unity as a people, as a country,” Widodo told reporters in capital Jakarta.
Most opinion polls give Widodo a double-digit lead over Prabowo, but some show the gap narrowing as the campaign begins.
Both sides are battling for the support of Indonesia’s roughly 80 million millennials, who form more than 40 percent of Indonesia’s voters.
Widodo’s advisers have pored over surveys of millennials and one, who declined to be identified without authorisation to speak to the media, said “sports, music, and film” were being targeted for their appeal to the group.
Indonesians are avid users of social media, which is crucial to election canvassing in the sprawling archipelago.
A video featuring the 57-year-old president in a motorbike stunt last month, when he appeared to roar into the opening ceremony of the Asian Games, proved wildly popular.
Wooing the hardliners
By contrast, the opposition is deploying its online slogan ‘#GantiPresiden2019’ (Change the President in 2019) to highlight growing economic pressure, including the rupiah currency, which plunged nine percent this year.
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The opposition accuses Widodo of failing to reduce income inequality and deliver on a 2014 campaign pledge of seven percent growth.
But the most incendiary attacks have targeted Widodo’s religion and ethnicity, including accusations that he is a Christian and the son of Chinese communists.
To blunt such claims, Widodo chose as his running mate Ma’ruf Amin, a conservative cleric from Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), boasting of around 40 million members.
Some Widodo supporters, however, took issues with Amin, 75, to whom they attribute a key role in fuelling the rising intolerance. As head of a council of Muslim clerics, Amin issued fatwas condemning minority groups.
By contrast, Prabowo chose 49-year-old Sandiaga Uno, a US-educated businessman who ran successfully last year to be Jakarta’s vice governor, before resigning to be the opposition’s candidate.
Prabowo, who has also long courted conservative Islamic groups, this week accepted endorsement by hardline Muslim clerics who were behind mass protests last year that brought down Jakarta’s then governor, an ethnic Chinese Christian.