Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was in a combative mood during a campaign rally over the weekend, as he made late pitches to voters ahead of next month’s presidential election.
“I have been slandered, I have been accused of things, I was vilified and looked down on and I have been silent,” he said at a campaign stop in the central Java city of Yogyakarta on Saturday.
“But today, in Yogyakarta I say, I will fight!” he said to the cheers of his supporters who shouted: “Fight! Fight!”
Jokowi was alluding to accusations from his critics that he is anti-Muslim, that he would ban the Islamic call to prayer if he wins a second five-year term in the April 17 election, and other attacks on his character.
The president has reason to worry.
A new poll suggested that his opponent, former general Prabowo Subianto, is gaining ground.
A survey by the private pollster Litbang Kompas released last week found that Jokowi was likely to win 49.2 per cent, while Prabowo was favoured by 37.4 per cent. About 13 per cent of respondents were undecided.
It was a wake-up call for Jokowi, who had a comfortable lead of nearly 20 per cent in October.
Analysts say Jokowi appears on track for re-election if various polls are anything to go by, but Prabowo could still pull off a surprise.
“Anything can happen during the remaining campaign period,” said Adi Prayitno, a political analyst at Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University in Jakarta.
“The Kompas survey shows that the gap is narrowing and this should be a cause for concern for Jokowi,” he said.
Prabowo, a former special forces commander and now a wealthy businessman, has portrayed himself as a champion of the poor.
At a campaign rally on Monday in Papua province, one of the country’s poorest regions, he lambasted what he called “the Jakarta elite,” which he said has failed to bring prosperity to the people.
“The elite are only concerned about their own interests,” Prabowo told the crowd who shouted his name. “Their only motive is to enrich themselves and their relatives.”
Jokowi has touted successes in improving the country’s dilapidated infrastructure by building new roads, ports, airports and dams.
Meanwhile, the Prabowo camp has accused the current administration of failing to shore up the economy, currently growing at 5 per cent annually, and of having a penchant for debt.
The country has also struggled with a widening current account deficit and a weak currency, which fell in September to the lowest level since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.
The April election is a repeat of the 2014 poll, when Jokowi beat Prabowo narrowly after a divisive campaign period marked by mudslinging from both sides, including accusations that Joko was an ethnic Chinese communist.
This year’s election will be held simultaneously with the parliamentary polls, which are contested by 16 national parties.
Nearly 250,000 candidates are vying for the more than 20,000 seats in national, provincial and municipal parliaments.
About 193 million people, including 80 million people born after 1980, are eligible to vote, making it the world’s biggest direct presidential election, according to the General Election Commission.
There will be around 800,000 polling stations and six million election workers.
Jokowi has chosen Ma’ruf Amin, a conservative Muslim cleric and chairman of the semi-official Indonesian Ulema Council, as his vice presidential candidate, apparently to fend off accusations that he is insufficiently Islamic.
But conservative Muslims appear determined to prevent him from being re-elected by rallying around Prabowo, according to the the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in a report released this month.
“The Islamists already have had a major impact on the campaign by forcing Jokowi to defend allegations that he is anti-Islam and anti-poor and by moving the definition of what constitutes moderation to the right,” the report said.
“Their support for [Prabowo] is conditional and half-hearted, but measures taken by the Jokowi government to try to weaken, co-opt and stigmatize them as extremists have only strengthened what otherwise would be a fragile alliance,” it said.