JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia’s main opposition party nominated the hugely popular governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, as its presidential candidate Friday, March 14, setting him up as the leading contender for July elections.
Surveys have shown that Widodo, affectionately known nationwide as Jokowi, would claim the presidency by a long shot if nominated.
He is considered a fresh face among a slew of candidates who have run multiple times and hark back to the three-decade Suharto dictatorship, many with military ties.
The Indonesian media has in recent months been eyeing every move within the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to see if the former president and party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri would step down for Widodo to run.
Puan Maharani, Megawati’s daughter and a senior PDI-P official, read a statement from her mother saying that she supports “Joko Widodo as the presidential candidate from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle”.
The announcement confirmed earlier speculation after Widodo accompanied Megawati to eastern Java to visit the tomb of Sukarno – Megawati’s father and Indonesia’s first president – widely seen as a sign that Megawati had decided on his nomination.
Widodo, with his trademark flannel shirt and love of heavy metal bands including Metallica, has branded himself a man of the people and has earned the approval of many looking for a new style of leadership.
“I have been given a mandate by the chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri to be the presidential candidate from PDI-P and in the name of God the merciful, I am ready to fulfill it,” Widodo told reporters in Jakarta, before kissing Indonesia’s red-and-white flag.
The rise of the 52-year-old former furniture maker has been meteoric, from mayor of a small Javanese city in the late 2000s to a surprise victory as Jakarta governor in 2012.
Widodo’s nomination is a “game-changer”, according to Syamsuddin Haris, a political expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
“His declaration as presidential candidate means the political map for this election is now easier to read,” Haris told AFP.
“For the legislative elections, PDI-P will win. And for the presidential election, Jokowi will win,” he said.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation with 250 million people, will hold legislative polls in April and elect a new president in July, with some 180 million voters eligible to take part.
Polls have shown that with Widodo as a candidate, his party would receive a major boost in the legislative polls, in which it needs 20% of the seats in parliament or 25% of the popular vote to field a presidential candidate.
Jakarta stocks jumped 3.23% following the announcement of his nomination, and netizens rushed online to show their support.
“After throwing my vote twice in past elections, now there is no reason to do so in 2014,” Risyda Haerudin said on the Kompas daily news website.
Some have voiced concerns, however, over Widodo’s lack of experience in the Indonesian political scene.
“I’ll be worried if Indonesia is led by a civilian. I think with a military president, Indonesia can be more stable,” Bahrudin, a textile vendor who like many Indonesians go by one name, told AFP in Jakarta.
Widodo’s main rival is Prabowo Subianto, a retired general who was once married to Suharto’s daughter and stands accused of a range of human rights abuses.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won a landslide victory in 2009 on a graft-fighting platform, must step down again after serving the maximum two terms.
His ruling Democratic Party is facing wipeout as corruption scandals continue to mar the party name. – Rappler.com