Challenger Prabowo urges Solo voters to help set the country back on path to progress

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto at a campaign rally in Solo, Central Java Province, Indonesia, on April 10, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

SOLO - A day after President Joko Widodo returned to his home town of Solo in Central Java, invoking his ties to the city to endear himself to voters, it was his rival Prabowo Subianto's turn to come knocking in a final push to gain ground in the province.

In a fiery rally at Stadium Sriwedari - where Mr Joko on Wednesday declared an ambitious bid to extend his lead in the province - Mr Prabowo called for the crowd to vote in a new head of state and set a stumbling nation back on the path to progress.

"The Indonesian people already understand what is happening in this country. You already get that this country is in a state of confusion," said Mr Prabowo.

"You don't want to be headed in the wrong direction anymore, this path uses our national wealth to enrich a select few, a group that will allow our riches to be carried away abroad... We must change course, and get back on the right path."

In an election which has seen anxieties over job opportunities and rising costs, Mr Prabowo declared once more than his team could help alleviate the pain.

He told the crowd he had experts who can offer concrete solutions to the problems faced by Indonesians.

His team, he said, told him that electricity tariffs and the price of daily necessities such as meat could be reduced in his first 100 days in office if he were elected.

With Mr Prabowo playing the identity politics and religion cards, as well as viral hoaxes stirring up anger, this has bred tensions and caused rifts within families and communities, threatening national solidarity.

Mr Rikard as well as political experts such as Professor Komaruddin Hidayat, rector of state-run Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University, and Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra, are of the view that Indonesia needs to consider a change in how elections are run.

Prof Komaruddin suggested that all relevant parties gather and seriously consider whether adopting an electoral college system, where people elect MPs, who in turn choose the president and vice-president, is a better idea for future elections.

Fertiliser would be distributed to farmers and unnecessary imports stopped, added Mr Prabowo, who has said that an over-reliance on food imports has driven prices up.

He said, in a jibe at Mr Jokowi, who on the campaign trail has been pushing plans to roll out cards that will, among other things, give job seekers the chance to upskill: "The Indonesian government must be a government that looks after its people. Cards? That can wait."

Reiterating a key narrative of his campaign - that Indonesia is a country of abundant riches which must be steered by leaders who can help it reach its full potential - he also pledged to set up hundreds of new factories.

"We want to have Indonesian-made cars that are truly made in Indonesia... Motorbikes really made in Indonesia," he said. "We have built our own airplanes in the past, and we will build them again. We will build our own ships to help our fishermen."

In the 2014 presidential race, Mr Joko clinched 66.65 per cent of the votes in Central Java to Mr Prabowo's 33.35 per cent.

And in Solo itself, where he began his political career elected as mayor in 2005, , Mr Joko won 84 per cent of the votes.

On Tuesday, Mr Joko called on attendees at his homecoming rally to work to extend his lead, aiming for at least 70 per cent of votes in the province in the upcoming polls.

Solo holds political magnetism for his opponent. Observers say that if Mr Prabowo manages to win over voters in Mr Joko's stronghold, it could shake his dominance in other parts of Central Java too.

Mr Jokowi's campaign team, however, is confident that their candidate still has an iron grip on the province - especially in Solo.

"Solo has always been a red area, the area of the PDI-P," said the team's deputy chairman Arsul Sani, referring to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, one of the parties in the coalition supporting Mr Joko.

No party - including the Islamic parties - has yet been able to shake the PDI-P's dominance, he added.

Nonetheless, Mr Prabowo has expressed optimism, saying citizens have shown that many Indonesians are hungry to see a new leader at the helm.

"This time around, the people have risen... In Solo here today, we can see that the people in Central Java want change as well," he told a cheering crowd.

"We are right now on the verge of victory, but we cannot be over-confident... We must be on our guard."

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