Candidates zoom in on Jokowi's home town as Indonesia presidential campaign enters final stretch

ST VIDEO: NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH
Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Supporters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.
Supporters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Supporters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.
Supporters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Supporters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.
Supporters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SOLO - Fourteen years ago, the city of Solo in Central Java made a mayor out of a furniture businessman who grew up in one of its riverside slums, setting him on a path that would take him to the country's capital, and the presidential palace.

On Tuesday (April 9), President Joko Widodo, in the final leg of a tough fight to secure a second term in office, returned to Solo for a homecoming rally, calling on his town to stand by him once more at the April 17 election.

Tapping nostalgia, and oozing folksy charm, he sought to remind the crowd in a brief speech of his connection to Solo and emphasise that he can continue to lead the country in progress.

"I'm happy to be here in Solo, where I started my career in governance," Mr Joko told the crowd, who broke into cheers at each mention of his ties to the city.

"In Solo in 2014, we had 84 per cent of the votes. But, remember, I'm from Solo. We shouldn't get the same figure now. We must get more. Maybe more than 90 per cent? Can we do that?"

Before he was elected governor of Jakarta in 2012, and Indonesia's head of state two years later, he had made a name for himself as a mayor who helped reinvigorate a city in decline.

Mr Joko, who goes by the popular moniker Jokowi, was elected mayor of Solo in 2005, and then re-elected in 2010 with more than 90 per cent of the vote.

Among other things, he revived the local economy, reduced congestion on the roads, and improved health services and living conditions for the poor.

Mr Joko reminded his audience of his achievements as president, such as instituting toll roads in Central Java that have helped slash travel times, and pushed his plans to help job seekers get training, and housewives get subsidised daily necessities.

Urging the crowd to ensure their family and friends voted next Wednesday, he said he hoped to clinch at least 70 per cent of the votes in Central Java this time - up from the 66.65 per cent in 2014. "This is not the time for rest. It is full steam ahead," he said.


Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his homecoming rally in Solo on April 9, 2019. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

But even with Mr Joko's intimate personal and political ties to the city, victory will not come easy in Solo this time around, with rival Prabowo Subianto working the ground hard as well.

The historic city is a symbolic battleground in the fight for Central Java, a province of more than 34 million that has long been a stronghold for Mr Joko and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Observers say that if Mr Prabowo manages to win over voters in Solo, this could shake Mr Joko's dominance in other parts of Central Java too.

 
 
 
 

Jakarta-born Prabowo, who last Sunday held his own massive hometown rally in the Indonesian capital, has made no secret of his designs on his opponent's base.

His campaign team set up one of its offices just a few hundred metres away from Mr Joko’s home in Solo.

On Wednesday, Mr Prabowo will take the stage at the very same stadium Mr Jokowi stood in on Tuesday.

He has his work cut out for him. Many have pledged to remain loyal to a fellow son of Solo, and believe that Mr Joko helped drive the country forward in his first term as president.

"When he was mayor he did a lot of good. My mother was a roadside kiosk owner who had to be relocated. Instead of bringing in the police to chase them out, he met and talked to the community instead," said housewife Dewi, 38, who goes by one name. "He is still the same way as president as he was as mayor: thinking of the future, wanting to bring progress."

For others, however, the shared connection is not enough.

"So what if he is from Solo like me? So what if he did a lot as mayor? Now he is running for president and we must see whether he's done enough in the past five years," said mechanic Achmad Fouzy, 54.

"I don't think he has, so I will give Prabowo a chance."