April 11, 2018 / 12:26 PM / a year ago

Indonesia opposition party backs retired general to stand as president

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s main opposition party on Wednesday endorsed Prabowo Subianto as its presidential candidate in next year’s election, potentially setting the stage for a repeat of the 2014 contest between the retired general and President Joko Widodo.

Indonesia's losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto gestures as he arrives to attend the inauguration of Indonesia's new president Joko Widodo in Jakarta October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Jefri Tarigan/Files

Subianto, who narrowly lost the election to Widodo four years ago, is chairman of the nationalist Gerindra Party which forms the main opposition alongside two Islamic parties.

“We have affirmed that Mr Prabowo is ready to be a presidential candidate and has received the party’s mandate to proceed as presidential candidate in 2019,” Gerindra deputy chairman Arief Poyuono said by telephone from the party’s national meeting in West Java.

Subianto was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying “if the Gerindra Party orders me to run in the upcoming presidential election, I am ready to carry out that task”, but added there was a need to first establish a coalition of supporting parties.

A presidential candidate needs the support of parties which together won 25 percent of the national vote in the previous election or have 20 percent of seats in parliament.

Widodo, a former furniture salesman, is Indonesia’s first president to come from outside the political and military elite, has gained the support of five parties and is currently well ahead in most opinion polls.

An Indo Barometer Survey conducted in late January gave Widodo 48.8 percent support, with Subianto on 22.3 percent and 28.9 percent undecided.

While in office, Widodo has led a push to build infrastructure though annual growth in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, at around 5 percent, has yet to reach the 7 percent he pledged when campaigning in 2014.

Subianto appeared to improve his political prospects last year after backing a successful challenge by former education minister Anies Baswedan to win the powerful post of Jakarta governor.

But the bitterly fought campaign to unseat the ethnic Chinese, Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a close ally of Widodo, exposed deep religious and ethnic divisions in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie

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