Indonesia kicks off presidential race as currency slumps

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JAKARTA, September 23: Campaigning for Indonesia’s presidential election in April kicked off Sunday, pitting incumbent Joko Widodo against a former military general in the race to lead the world’s third-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 Indonesian rupiah sitting at two-decade lows, and fears of a fake news campaign intended 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.
Both leaders — dressed in traditional Indonesian folk costumes — attended an official campaign launch in central Jakarta Sunday morning, in which they pledged to run a peaceful contest free from hoaxes and the politicisation of ethnicity and religion.
Many Indonesians will be keen to avoid a repeat of the Jakarta gubernatorial elections in 2017, which were marked by massive street demonstrations led by hardline Muslims opposed to the capital’s former governor who is ethnic Chinese and a Christian.
Analysts say campaigning is likely to focus on the economy, inequality, identity politics and rising intolerance across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.
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. (AFP)