Widodo's lead in Indonesian presidential race cut in half

Presidential front runner's lead cut in half as well-funded opponent's campaign questions Jakarta governor's ability to lead the country

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 June, 2014, 8:44am

Indonesian presidential front runner Joko Widodo's lead has shrunk by half in a month according to a recent opinion poll, as his well-funded opponent casts him as ill-suited for the top job just three weeks ahead of the election.

Indonesians, who six months ago gave the Jakarta governor an almost 40-point lead in opinion polls over the man who is now his sole rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, are beginning to doubt whether he's equipped to lead the country. Prabowo, the former son-in-law of dictator Suharto who headed the special forces under the deposed leader, has closed the gap to six percentage points from 13 a month earlier, according to a survey by Lingkaran Survei Indonesia.

"What Prabowo did was to negatively define Jokowi before he could define himself: 'He is a nice man, but devoid of policy substance'," said Jakarta-based Douglas Ramage, country head for Indonesia at business advisory Bower Group Asia, referring to Widodo by his nickname.

Widodo's man-of-the-people image that propelled him to the Jakarta governor's office is proving less effective in the face of an organised Prabowo campaign that has cast its candidate as a strong leader and forged political alliances to deliver votes.

While analysts predicted Widodo would win the support of Golkar, the country's second-biggest party, Prabowo was the one who last month linked up with Golkar and its chairman, Aburizal Bakrie, who gave up his own presidential bid.

But Prabowo's campaign is not without its major troubles.

Human rights abuse allegations that have dogged him intensified yesterday, when a former military chief confirmed the ex-general unilaterally ordered the abduction of student activists.

The comments were made by Wiranto, who was armed forces chief 16 years ago when Prabowo was dismissed from the military and whose small Hanura party is now part of the coalition led by Widodo.

Prabowo has admitted ordering the abduction of activists involved in a student movement that eventually toppled the three-decade Suharto dictatorship in May 1998, but has maintained he was acting on orders from above.

He denies ordering the activists' torture or having any connection to 13 who went missing and one found dead.

A four-page document of investigation findings by a military ad-hoc team was leaked online earlier this month recommending his dismissal. It stated Prabowo had ignored the military's hierarchy and ordered a team to kidnap the activists.

Wiranto agreed with the document's general contents. He said he had a discussion with Prabowo after the kidnappings and asked why he ordered them. "Then I was convinced that it was done on his own initiative, based on his analysis of the situation at the time," Wiranto said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse