Indonesia's incumbent President Joko Widodo called for unity among voters as he and running mate Ma'ruf Amin rallied thousands of supporters in a multicultural carnival parade in Tangerang in Banten province yesterday.
At the start of the afternoon rally, Mr Joko and Mr Ma'ruf, a cleric, climbed on board a horse-drawn carriage and led the parade as a sea of supporters cheered from the side of the road. Mr Joko tossed campaign shirts right and left.
Lending a carnival air were performers of the traditional Javanese Reog Ponorogo dance, Chinese lion dance and Indonesian traditional martial art Pencak Silat.
The candidates made a trip around Tangerang's main city park and slowed down each time they went past one of the nine raised and decorated platforms set up by local supporters, such as millennials, the women's club and the Islamic music club.
Mr Joko's rally was in stark contrast to that held by his rival Prabowo Subianto earlier in the day.
While Mr Joko celebrated diversity with cultural performances and music ranging from pop to the traditional, Mr Prabowo's fans, many of them conservative clerics, chanted "Allahu Akbar (God is great)".
Mr Joko is putting extra effort campaigning in Banten, a stronghold of former army general Prabowo.
Ruling party likely to sweep polls: Surve
RALLIES A BOON FOR HOTELS
• Presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto's election rally at the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) stadium yesterday was a boon for hotels and Airbnb rentals in Senayan.
• The Senayan area is within walking distance of the GBK sports complex. Occupancy for hotels, rental rooms and apartments there was between 80 per cent and 90 per cent over the weekend, reported Tempo.co. Indonesia's Hotels and Restaurants Association attributed the high rates to the rally, as well as a 5km run held in conjunction with next Wednesday's elections.
• President Joko Widodo will headline his rally at the stadium on Sunday. Hotels in Senayan are expecting a similar impact.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
• Mr Joko will be in eastern Indonesia today. He will visit both East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara, two provinces that were recently struck by earthquakes.
• Mr Prabowo is heading in the same direction, but to Yogyakarta, often referred to as the art and cultural capital of Indonesia.
WHAT DO SURVEYS SHOW?
• A survey by Lingkaran Survei Indonesia - conducted between March 18 and 26 with 1,200 respondents - found that the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P), which is backing Mr Joko's bid for re-election, will likely win big at the legislative election.
• This would mean that the PDI-P, led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, would have a majority in Parliament again, as well as for the next five-year legislative term.
• Mr Prabowo's Gerindra party will likely be in second place, as polls show them ahead of the Golkar Party. Golkar dominated the House during the reign of former president Suharto, which ended with the Reformasi movement in 1998.
Banten was part of West Java province before it split into a separate province in 2000. As with the rest of West Java, religion plays a very important role in Banten society and politicians can easily play the religious card, according to observers.
But Banten is also a province with a sizeable population of ethnic Chinese, especially in the area called Teluk Naga, or Dragon Bay.
The April 17 presidential poll will be a rematch between Mr Joko and Mr Prabowo, who lost the 2014 poll by a margin of 6 per cent nationwide.
In Banten, however, which is home to 8.1 million of the 192.8 million voters in Indonesia's 34 provinces, Mr Prabowo won about 57 per cent of the votes to Mr Joko's 43 per cent.
In his address to the crowd in Tangerang, Mr Joko emphasised the need for unity among voters of different political views and backgrounds, saying democracy should bring about joy, as every eligible citizen had the right to choose a leader.
Urging voters to look at each candidate's experience and track record, Mr Joko promised, if he were re-elected, to expand programmes to help the poor and less well-off deal with economic problems, and gain better access to education.
He said graduates of high schools and vocational schools from lower-income families who had good marks would get government scholarships to enrol in universities.
Employees who were laid off would be able to upgrade their skills through government-sponsored training programmes.
Housewives from lower-income households would also get special cards to buy rice, sugar and cooking oil at heavily subsidised prices.
One supporter at the rally, Mr Guy Zen, an automotive spare-part seller, brought a broom to symbolise Mr Joko's strong commitment to fight corruption.
He also admired Mr Joko's commitment in promoting pluralism. "The two candidates have said they are pro-pluralism, but Mr Joko has proven it," he told The Straits Times.