Rising Indonesia Presidential candidate pledges change from Widodo era

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As one of Indonesia’s leading presidential candidates is driven away from a campaign stop, locals surround his car, screaming his name and jostling to kiss his hand through the window.

Anies Baswedan, a former governor of the capital Jakarta, is in a three-way battle ahead of February’s vote to lead the world’s third largest democracy and fourth most populous nation, with polls showing him rising toward a spot in a potential second-round runoff.

In his first interview with foreign media since registering to run last month, the 54-year-old told AFP that he is the candidate for change.

He has sought to paint himself as an alternative to the other two candidates, frontrunner and current Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo, who has the backing of incumbent President Joko Widodo’s party.

Both have promised to largely carry on the current administration’s policies.

“We offer a change. We offer the concept of equality in policymaking,” Mr. Baswedan said from his car in western Java.

“More and more people realise that we need change.”

That includes strengthening the country’s corruption eradication commission and distributing wealth more fairly, Mr. Baswedan has pledged.

His campaign slogan — “fair, prosperous Indonesia for all” — promises economic development felt by everyone, not just the Indonesian elite, he said.

Achieving that goal would take a “commitment for good governance, starting from the top leader,” he said.

On foreign policy, he chided Mr. Widodo for never attending the United Nations General Assembly in person, promising that he would represent Indonesia at the annual gathering of world leaders.

“How come we don’t want to join the village’s meeting when our land is the fourth largest in the village?” he asked, referring to Indonesia’s 270 million people.

“Indonesia must be present and Indonesia must play its part. We’ll be active.”

‘Ethics start from the head’

That message appears to be catching on with voters, with Baswedan — an independent candidate backed by three political parties — rising in recent polls as Pranowo’s numbers have fallen.

The former university rector is now closing in on Pranowo, 55, for the second runoff spot to challenge Subianto, 72.

An independent poll published on December 10 showed 22.3% of Indonesian respondents would choose Baswedan, up from 19.6% in October.

Pranowo’s support slid from 26.1% to 23.8% in the same interval.

Baswedan — popular with conservative Muslims in the Muslim-majority country — was accused of stoking religious divisions in the race for governor of Jakarta in 2017, when he defeated a Christian rival backed by Widodo.

“You can see our record. We didn’t campaign with that. We campaigned with programmes,” he said.

Despite being a former education minister and campaign spokesperson for Widodo, Baswedan has put himself at odds with his former boss to try to succeed him.

Widodo’s legacy policy is a move of the capital from Jakarta to Nusantara on the island of Borneo due to take place next year.

But Baswedan says fixing the problems of major Indonesian cities such as Jakarta — where large areas are slated to be underwater by 2050 — should come first.

“With limited resources, I think it’s wiser that we fulfil those basic needs rather than build a place that will be unequal with other regions,” he said.

Asked if he would run the government from the new capital set to open in August, he said he would instead govern from Jakarta.

“Is it ready? The readiest infrastructure is here,” he said.

Baswedan was largely viewed as the winner of the first presidential debate, where he attacked Subianto’s campaign for an ethics violation that allowed his running mate — Widodo’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka — to stand in the election.

Subianto hit back in a viral video in which he mocked Baswedan’s attack on his ethics.

“Ethics start from the head,” Baswedan said in response to his opponent’s mockery.

“From the head, down to the subordinates.”

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