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Published: Friday April 18, 2014 MYT 7:31:46 PM
Updated: Friday April 18, 2014 MYT 7:33:40 PM

Indonesia's ex-general Prabowo edges closer to presidential race

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Former general Prabowo Subianto, who has struggled to shake off accusations of human rights abuses, received the backing of Indonesia's oldest Islamic party on Friday, bringing him close to being able to run in the July 9 presidential election.

None of the major parties, including Prabowo's Gerindra party, won enough votes in the April 9 parliamentary election in the world's third-largest democracy to be able to nominate a presidential candidate alone, forcing them to team up with smaller parties.

He is currently running a distant second in opinion polls for the presidency behind hugely popular Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo whose Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) won the most votes in the parliamentary election and has teamed up with another more moderate Muslim party to ensure he can run for president.

Indonesia is home to the world's biggest Muslim population but populist parties dominate politics. However, Islamic parties did better than expected in the parliamentary election, giving them some more leverage in the subsequent horse-trading to nominate presidential candidates.

"PPP (the United Development Party) considers Prabowo the right figure to lead Indonesia towards a better country," party chairman Suryadharma Ali told reporters after talks with the former son-in-law of long-time autocratic ruler Suharto.

Ali is the religious affairs minister in the outgoing government which has come under criticism for failing to curb intolerance against minority religions.

Ali's own party had been split in support for Prabowo and media reports said he had expelled several top party members for trying to oust him for his very public support of the ex-general.

Prabowo still needs to tie up with another party to ensure his candidacy.

Prabowo bills himself as a strong leader and his party has issued a detailed election platform that is heavily nationalist. It puts strong focus on lifting up the agricultural sector which is the biggest single source of employment but where incomes are mostly low and production often inefficient.

The son of one of the country's most prominent economists, Prabowo has been accused of human rights abuses during the unrest that led to Suharto's downfall in 1998, allegations he denies.

Much of the current election speculation is now focused on who the popular Jakarta governor will pick as his running mate.

(Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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