Indonesian president picks cleric as running mate in 2019

Joko Widodo has faced criticism from Islamists thus moving him to bolster his religious credentials. ― Reuters pic

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

Prabowo said his candidacy was supported by three political parties, but left out the Democrat Party in his nomination speech in an apparent sign of rifts in the opposition coalition.

However, rather unexpectedly Widodo announced that he picked Islamic scholar Ma'ruf Amin.

The citizens of Indonesia will go to the polls in April next year, when they will hold presidential and legislative elections simultaneously for the first time.

According to the Jakarta Post, Ma'ruf now chairs the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia's highest Muslim clerical body that oversees all registered Muslim organisations such as the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah and the Islamic Union (Persis). He was one of the clerics who galvanized street protests of hundreds of thousands against the Jakarta governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, for his alleged blasphemy and has a long record of supporting Shariah law and railing against homosexuality, secularism, liberalism and minority sects within Islam. He is running with businessman and deputy Jakarta governor Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno.

Associate Professor Fealey said Mr Amin would provide a "political shield" to Jokowi, who is sometimes accused of not being religious enough. Human rights groups allege he led a 1983 massacre in East Timor in which more than 300 people were killed.

Changing the political leadership structure ahead of the 2019 presidential elections.

"I can truly understand his decision", said Hariyadi.

"We will fight for all Indonesian people, whatever their religion, whatever the tribe, whatever the ethnicity, whatever the race", Mr Prabowo said after officially registering his ticket.

Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to a Muslim candidate, Anies Baswedan, and was later sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

But even when Jokowi has his Islamic bases covered, the analyst says Jokowi faces another challenge of youth voters interested in Ma'ruf's opponent, Sandiaga, who is a younger candidate.

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 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

Prabowo testily refused to accept the election results and withdrew just hours before the announcement of official results.

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