Indonesian President Joko Widodo, challenger Prabowo Subianto turn on charm to win over voters

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto called on his "brothers" in West Java province to hand him and his running-mate Sandiaga Uno a resounding victory in the April 17 elections. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANDUNG, WEST JAVA - Like rock stars faced with adoring fans, President Joko Widodo and presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto sent supporters screaming and clapping at their respective election rallies on Thursday (March 28).

While Mr Joko, 57, was touting a new toll road for voters in Balikpapan, a port city in East Kalimantan, Mr Prabowo, a former army general, delivered his signature war cry in a bid to rouse support in Bandung, West Java.

Mr Prabowo, 67, was clearly in his element as he called on his "brothers" in the province to hand him and his running-mate Sandiaga Uno a resounding victory in the April 17 elections.

The reception he received from the thousands who turned up to hear him speak at the Sidolig stadium, home to one of Indonesia's largest football clubs, Persib, seemed to belie recent survey findings suggesting that his grip on his erstwhile stronghold West Java may be slipping.

Seemingly unaffected by recent polls that show him and Mr Sandiaga, 49, trailing Mr Joko and vice-presidential candidate Ma'ruf Amin, 76, Mr Prabowo even upped the ante, setting an audacious target of winning 85 per cent of votes in the province.

"I request West Java to bring victory to Prabowo-Sandi," he implored, telling supporters that the province is a decisive electorate if he is to win.

"My brothers in West Java, I need your support, as you supported me, as you defended me (at the 2014 election)."

Indonesia's presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto greets his supporters during his campaign rally in Bandung, West Java province, on March 28, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

Although he eventually lost to Mr Joko in the 2014 race, Mr Prabowo swept up nearly 60 per cent of the votes in West Java, the largest electorate with 33.3 million votes up for grabs this time. Mr Joko managed only 40 per cent.

However, pollster Charta Politika's latest survey on Monday (March 25) showed Mr Joko leading in the province with 47.4 per cent, or 5.1 points ahead of his challenger.

But no matter, as the tough-talking Mr Prabowo engaged the crowd, often breaking into local slang. He even took off his shirt and threw his hat at the crowd, many of whom had gathered as early as 6am. The rally started at 10.37am.

At one point, he started combing his hair, saying he was concerned about his "poor" image in the media, but quickly added: "Why should I care?"

As he worked the crowd, Mr Prabowo took care to give an airing to more vital issues and a key message from his campaign, as he promised to tackle corruption and rising food prices.

"We want to stop the corruption culture in Indonesia. We want to have officials who can't be bribed, who will not sacrifice the interests of their people," he said to cheers.

Further north, in Balikpapan, Mr Joko pitched his achievements in building infrastructure in the region. Prior to the rally, he had a greet-and-meet event in Manggar beach with thousands of residents and fishermen, who prepared local food for him, Antara reported. While a few of them managed to shake hands with him, many others could only greet him from the bridge, while yelling out his moniker, "Jokowi, Jokowi, Jokowi".

In the Balikpapan Sports and Convention Centre, Mr Joko promised supporters to finish construction of a toll road connecting the city to neighbouring Samarinda, set to become the first one in Kalimantan island, by the end of this year.

"God willing, the 99km distance between Balikpapan and Samarinda, which usually takes a three-hour trip, will only need a maximum of one hour," he was quoted as saying by

In Mamuju, Mr Joko, a former furniture exporter, and his wife Iriana took a rickshaw on their way to Ahmad Kirang field where thousands of supporters were waiting, Antara reported. A number of people were able to shake his hands and even took selfies with him.

"I am so happy to be present in Mamuju, West Sulawesi, this afternoon. How are you? Fine?" Mr Joko greeted them in the local language, yielding a raucous response from the crowd.

Mamuju serves as "a window into Indonesia", or a "mini-Indonesia", because of its pluralistic society in terms of ethnicity, religion, culture and language, he said.

Mr Joko also underlined that Belang-belang port, whose construction has been completed, will help transportation and trade activities in the region, dubbed as "the province of one thousands rivers", his campaign team said in a statement. He added he will continue building infrastructure, particularly roads, to connect key areas across the province, in a bid to spur its economic growth.

Surveys by major pollsters this week showed the Joko-Ma'ruf ticket still enjoying more support. A Centre for Strategic and International Studies poll on Thursday indicated its vote share at 51.4 per cent, with the Prabowo-Sandi ticket at 33.3 per cent.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.