JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo has thrown down the gauntlet by sending a political signal that he is ready to challenge his rival Prabowo Subianto in the latter's electoral strongholds, such as Banten province on Java.
Following a strong reception on Sunday in the province where Mr Joko held his first rally of the 2019 presidential election, his campaign team said they are confident of securing more votes there this time around.
Even though he lost the election to Mr Joko at the previous election in 2014, Mr Prabowo did beat Mr Joko in several key election battlegrounds, including West Java and Banten, where the former general garnered 57.1 per cent to the President's 42.9 per cent of the votes in the latter.
A local official in Banten said a key factor that will help Mr Joko in Banten is his choice of running-mate Ma'ruf Amin - a native of the province.
Mr Mulyadi Jayabaya, an adviser of the Joko-Ma'ruf campaign in Lebak regency, said that, based on the latest survey, the electability of Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, and Dr Ma'ruf has reached 54 per cent recently.
The former regent of Lebak has set a target of helping the Joko-Ma'ruf ticket win 70 per cent of the votes in the regency, which makes up a sizeable portion of Banten province.
"We still have 22 days, God willing, we will meet that (target)," he said in a statement on Tuesday (March 26).
Banten, situated on the westernmost tip of Java, was chosen as the first rally site of the Joko-Ma'ruf ticket because it was the birthplace of Dr Ma'ruf, according to campaign chief Mr Erick Thohir.
Mr Rano Karno, a notable actor and politician from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle which nominated the Jokowi-Ma'ruf ticket, said the campaign team is optimistic the pairing could secure at least 60 per cent votes in Banten.
"This takes into account the latest dynamics and surveys, and also factors cleric Ma'ruf who serves as the vice-presidential candidate," he told Tribunnews.
Much is at stake in Banten, which has a population of 12 million.
Although Mr Joko was never expected to perform well there due to it being a traditional stronghold of Mr Prabowo, there was some hope that the President could ride on the fact that the province is Dr Ma'ruf's hometown.
Instead, a survey out late last year saw Mr Joko and Dr Ma'ruf polling less than the 43 per cent of votes the President garnered when he won the 2014 election, while Mr Prabowo added two points to the 57 per cent he received back then.
Surveys released early this week show that the Jokowi-Ma'ruf ticket is still ahead nationally, with pollster Vox Populi Research Centre indicating a vote-share of 54.1 per cent, with Mr Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno behind on just 33.6 per cent.
Another pollster, Charta Politika, showed Joko-Ma'ruf on 53.6 per cent, compared to Prabowo-Sandi ticket with just 35.4 per cent votes.
However, an earlier survey by the research arm of Kompas, Indonesia's biggest newspaper, saw the challengers closing in ahead of the April 17 polls, with support for them rising to 37.4 per cent, up nearly five points from a previous survey released last October.
In contrast, the Jokowi-Ma'ruf camp saw their electability decline to 49.2 per cent, from 52.6 per cent six months ago. Mr Prabowo and Mr Sandi have been gaining ground among the youth, the research said.