Unofficial regional polls count in favour of Widodo

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers a speech at Foreign Ministry office in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 12, 2018. REUTERS

DEPOK, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia’s regional elections yesterday put candidates favouring President Joko Widodo ahead in three provinces on Java island, home to more than half of the population of the world’s third-largest democracy.

But candidates backed by the opposition fared better than expected in the elections, which is an important pointer for national parliamentary and presidential races next year.

Some hardline Islamic leaders have publicly called for the ousting of Widodo, who has pledged to protect Indonesia’s tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam in the officially secular country.

Widodo is expected to run again for the presidency in 2019, against retired general Prabowo Subianto, who was narrowly defeated in the last presidential vote in 2014.

Political analysts said the mixed results meant Widodo, who has mostly enjoyed high approval ratings, may face a tougher fight next year than expected.

Yesterday, elections were held for 171 city mayors, regents, and provincial governors across the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

The regional election results will help underpin support for presidential candidates since local-level leaders are often best placed to mobilise voters. Presidential candidates need to be declared by Aug 10.

The extent of Islamist influence on voters will be closely watched after a bitterly fought contest for the Jakarta governorship last year exposed deep religious and ethnic rifts.

In West Java province, a conservative area with a population of 47 million, Ridwan Kamil, a 46-year-old, US-educated architect, had won 33 percent of the vote, inching ahead of rivals, according to quick counts, based on unofficial tallies of a sample of votes.

Kamil, the former mayor of Indonesia’s third-largest city of Bandung, won praise for his progressive approach to governance, but was opposed by hardline Islamist groups questioning his Islamic credentials. He has not explicitly voiced support for Widodo.

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