Indonesia kicks off presidential race as currency slumps
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Campaigning for Indonesia's presidential election in April kicked off on Sunday, September 23, pitting incumbent Joko Widodo against a former military general in the race to lead the world's 3rd-biggest democracy.
Opinion polls show Widodo, whose down-to-earth style and ambitious infrastructure drive have made him popular with many Indonesians, well ahead of his main challenger Prabowo Subianto.
But his bid for a second term is facing headwinds over his economic record, with the rupiah currency sitting at two-decade lows, and fears of a fake news campaign targeted to disrupt his re-election.
Some 186 million voters in the world's largest Muslim-majority country are expected go to the polls on April 17, in an election which will also decide members of national and local parliaments.
Analysts say campaigning is likely to focus on the economy, inequality, identity politics, and rising intolerance across the sprawling archipelago of more than 260 million people.
Widodo, who is popularly known as Jokowi, surprised many Indonesians in August by choosing to run alongside conservative Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin.
Amin, 75, is chairman of the country's top Islamic authority the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which issues fatwas, and is known for his disparaging views towards certain minorities.
About 90% of Indonesia's 260 million people have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam, but there are concerns that the historically secular nation is taking a sharp fundamentalist turn.
The pair will square off against Prabowo and former deputy Jakarta governor Sandiaga Uno, a businessman and private equity tycoon.
Prabowo, who lost to Widodo in 2014, was a top military figure in the chaotic months before dictator Suharto was toppled by student protests in 1998.
Following the strongman's downfall, he admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists and was discharged from the military.
Pundits say Widodo, who has hired billionaire Inter Milan chairman and minority owner Erick Thohir as his campaign manager, is most vulnerable when it comes to the economy and inequality.
Indonesia's currency has slumped in recent weeks, falling to levels not seen since the country was embroiled in a region-wide financial crisis that sparked economic ruin and the street protests that led to the downfall of Suharto.
Claims of economic mismanagement, along with outright character assassination, are expected to be amplified by viral social media and fake news campaigns.
Widodo has been dogged for years by misleading hoaxes that he is a member of the outlawed Indonesian communist party, a Christian and Chinese. – Rappler.com