Indonesian president picks cleric as running mate

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Gerindra Party leader Prabowo Subianto waves to reporters as he arrives for a meeting with former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Yudhoyono’s residence in Jakarta, Indonesia August 9, 2018. Reuters

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has chosen 75-year-old Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate in next year’s presidential election.

The two will be challenged by former general Prabowo Subianto and his vice presidential candidate pick, the deputy governor of Jakarta, Sandiaga Uno.

Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy and biggest Muslim-majority country, goes to the polls in April.

The contest, at least in terms of the presidential candidates, is shaping up as a repeat of the 2014 election, when political outsider Mr Widodo defeated Mr Prabowo, who has deep ties to Indonesia’s business and military elite.

Mr Widodo is a popular moderate who has had mixed success with his reform agenda. Mr Prabowo is a charismatic nationalist with strong links to Islamists who frequently rails against foreigners.

On a dramatic day of political maneuvering and intrigue, Mr Widodo made a surprise decision to pick Mr Amin, just hours after former chief justice Mahfud MD appeared to confirm he was the vice presidential choice of Mr Widodo.

Mr Amin is the influential head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), who issued a statement condemning Mr Widodo’s political ally, the ethnic Chinese Christian former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, as a blasphemer for insulting the Koran in the middle of a heated Jakarta election campaign.

Mr Prabowo’s candidate for Jakarta governor won the election, which analysts and rights advocates condemned for inflaming sectarian sentiment.

Mr Amin had been a presidential adviser and had served in local and national legislatures in the past.

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