Jokowi puts economy at heart of re-election campaign

JAKARTA • Mr Joko Widodo has put the economy at the centre of his pitch to voters, pointing to job creation and higher purchasing power as key to alleviating poverty for scores of Indonesians.

As he seeks to build momentum ahead of the April 17 election, the Indonesian President, known popularly as Jokowi, in a speech on Sunday underscored progress made in infrastructure during his first term.

He also outlined key policy objectives should he win, focusing on a positive theme of taking Indonesia forward.

"I am optimistic that hard work will transform the lives of the Indonesian people," Mr Joko said in Bogor, near the capital Jakarta.

"We will continue to reduce poverty through the creation of employment, economy, stronger purchasing power, comprehensive social security," he said.

While polls show Mr Joko holding a commanding lead of about 20 points over his presidential rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, the gap has narrowed.

Mr Prabowo has campaigned aggressively. Some suggest he could spring a "Mahathir-like" upset, following Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's unlikely electoral victory last year.

The opposition has sharpened its attack on Mr Joko's economic performance in recent weeks, seizing on a ballooning trade deficit and surging public debt.

While polls show Mr Joko holding a commanding lead of about 20 points over his presidential rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, the gap has narrowed. Mr Prabowo has campaigned aggressively. Some suggest he could spring a "Mahathir-like" upset, following Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's unlikely electoral victory last year.

 
 
 
 

Mr Joko put development of the vast Indonesian archipelago at the heart of his first term, with hundreds of billions of dollars spent on an ambitious infrastructure programme.

On Sunday, he called for the country to work together to "build an advanced Indonesia", while adding that "our work is not finished".

He also urged unity, a common message in his first term, which has been marked by demonstrations in the capital led by hardline Muslim groups, a string of terror attacks and devastating natural disasters.

"We need to unite now to face the threat of division and setbacks," he said.

Appealing to the tens of millions of lower-paid Indonesians, Mr Joko flagged the expansion of a scheme of free food cards as a key policy.

He also highlighted the village fund programme that helps local governments finance development projects, promising to boost funding to 400 trillion rupiah (S$38.5 billion) over the next five years.

Mr Joko has made inroads into addressing poverty. The number of so-called "poor people" has fallen by about two million to 25.7 million since he took office, according to official figures as of last September.

While the economy has struggled to fire under Mr Joko, the nation's jobless rate has fallen to almost a 20-year low at 5.3 per cent.

He has also managed to keep a lid on cost of living pressures as the election approaches, with inflation easing last month to 2.8 per cent, its lowest since August 2016.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2019, with the headline 'Jokowi puts economy at heart of re-election campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe