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Published: Friday March 14, 2014 MYT 6:36:14 PM
Updated: Friday March 14, 2014 MYT 6:37:36 PM

Popular Jakarta governor enters race for Indonesia presidency

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's main opposition PDI-P party on Friday named Jakarta governor Joko Widodo as its presidential candidate, ending months of suspense over whether the man seen as most likely to become leader of the world's third largest democracy would run.

Opinion polls show Jokowi, as he is popularly known, far ahead of any other likely candidate in the July 9 election.

In just over a year as governor of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, he has won national popularity for his straightforward style. Though his appeal cuts across social classes, he has won particularly strong following among the poor and fast emerging middle classes.

"I got a mandate from the chair of PDI-P Ibu Megawati to become the presidential candidate for the party," Jokowi told reporters, before kissing the red and white national flag.

He was referring to former president Megawati Sukarnoputri who has kept the country guessing over whether she would nominate the Jakarta governor.

In what would only be Indonesia's third direct presidential election, Jokowi represents a new generation of hands-on leaders for a country that has the world's largest Muslim population.

Jokowi, 52, currently enjoys a huge lead in polls over rivals like former general Prabowo Subianto and tycoon Aburizal Bakrie in the race to the presidential palace.

The slightly built, furniture manufacturer scored a victory in Jakarta's gubernatorial election in late 2012, toppling the incumbent with a campaign that relied heavily on social media.

His popularity has since skyrocketed, with almost daily media coverage of his spontaneous trips to the city's low-income neighbourhoods.

Jokowi, who grew up on a riverbank slum in the Central Javanese town of Surakarta, also known as Solo, and went on to own a small furniture business before becoming mayor of his city, has struck a chord with the average Indonesian voter.

A victory for the rags-to-riches governor would mark a significant departure from the political norm in Indonesia, which has only ever seen the rule of members of the military and established political elite.

A Jokowi presidency is seen as a positive for Southeast Asia's biggest economy, which has persistently underperformed due to rampant graft, confusing policy and weak leadership.

Jakarta's main share index rose more than 2 percent on the announcement.

(Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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