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Published: Tuesday April 22, 2014 MYT 5:21:11 PM
Updated: Tuesday April 22, 2014 MYT 5:22:40 PM

Indonesian political sniping offers presidential hopeful Jokowi some help

Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo gives donation during lunch with his supporters from the PDI-P party in Jakarta March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Jakarta governor and presidential candidate Joko Widodo gives donation during lunch with his supporters from the PDI-P party in Jakarta March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian presidential frontrunner Joko "Jokowi" Widodo looks to be getting some extra help from the bickering that threatens to undermine his chief rivals to become the next leader of the world's third biggest democracy.

No political party managed to win the required number of votes in this month's general election to be allowed to nominate on its own a candidate for a July 9 presidential poll, forcing them to cut deals with other parties.

Only Jakarta governor Jokowi's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) has managed to find a partner to lift him above the threshold needed for a nomination.

A smooth path to the presidential palace for Jokowi, whose huge popularity rests on his clean, can-do image, would likely cheer foreign investors eager to see a smooth transition in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

Ex-general Prabowo Subianto, of the Gerindra Party and distant second to Jokowi in opinion polls, late last week seemed

to have won the backing of the head of country's oldest Islamic party, the United Development Party (PPP).

That infuriated other senior members of PPP who then suspended their chief for not consulting them first.

"We are discussing a coalition with Gerindra but ... at the moment are still open to all possibilities," said Emron Pangkapi, acting chairman of PPP.

Even if the party does back Prabowo, he will still need the support of at least one other party to run for the presidency.

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 former authoritarian ruler Suharto's downfall in 1998, allegations he denies.

Candidates and their running mates must be registered by May 18. If no candidate wins a simple majority in the July race, there will be a second round in September.

The enthusiasm for Jokowi, despite no indications of what his policies as president would be, was underscored by the more than 3 percent jump in Jakarta shares when his party nominated him as its candidate for the presidency on March 14.

But they fell when his party failed to do as well as expected in the April 9 parliamentary vote.

INFIGHTING

The other major party in the running is Golkar, whose official presidential candidate is business tycoon Aburizal Bakrie.

But he faces a growing chorus of voices within the party calling for him to be replaced as presidential nominee and blaming his stubbornly low popularity for the party's weaker-than-expected showing in the parliamentary poll.

One Golkar official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said there may be a move to oust Bakrie, but for now the party was focused on finding coalition partners.

Golkar has secured the backing of Hanura, a small party led by another former general, Wiranto. Like Gerindra, it will need to bring on board at least one other party to nominate a presidential candidate.

Jokowi's easy approach with ordinary people has made the former furniture businessman a favourite for the presidency. He is seen by many as a welcome change from the old guard of elitist politicians who have long dominated Indonesian politics.

Focus has already shifted to his choice of running mate. Several names are in the fray, including that of popular former vice-president Jusuf Kalla.

(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Robert Birsel)

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