Tens of thousands of cheering supporters waved flags emblazoned with pictures of Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, at Jakarta’s main stadium on the final day of campaigning before Wednesday’s election.
Backers of his only rival, Prabowo Subianto, were holding rallies to show their support across the country, although the ex-general took time out to prepare for a TV debate in the evening.
At the rally, Widodo ― seen as a fresh face in a country still dominated by figures from the autocratic Suharto era ― told the cheering crowd: “We are on the verge of building a new history.”
The Jakarta governor added that his push for the presidency had been “hit by smear campaigns but we didn’t fall apart because we truly believe in the Republic of Indonesia.”
|Joko Widodo, governor of Jakarta and presidential candidate, shows a victory sign as he arrives for a debate against opponent Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta on Saturday. (Bloomberg)|
He was referring to a flood of negative attacks on him that have eroded his popularity, including that he is not a Muslim, a damaging charge in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
As well as the smear campaigns, Prabowo has extended his lead due to a slick, well-funded campaign, a contrast with Widodo’s often disorganized effort.
Before Widodo’s speech, dozens of singers and bands performed for free to show their support. From Sunday, no more campaigning is allowed before the vote.
Later Saturday, the candidates and their running mates clashed in the last of five televised debates, which focused on food, energy and the environment.
Widodo and his running mate, former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, appeared more energetic and commentators said they outclassed Prabowo and his deputy, Hatta Rajasa, with several well-judged attacks.
In their closing statements, Widodo pledged to “bring change, breakthrough” to Indonesia, while Prabowo vowed to “prioritize welfare and sovereignty.”
“Jokowi and Kalla looked better,” said Tobias Basuki, an analyst from Jakarta-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adding the other pair “seemed to have lost their composure.”
As well as being seen as a break from the era of dictator Suharto, Widodo has also won plaudits for his common touch and being a clean leader in a graft-ridden country.
Prabowo, in contrast, was a top military figure in the Suharto epoch who admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists, but he has won over many voters by pledging to be a strong leader.
Widodo is fighting to hold on to a poll lead of a few percentage points, down from a huge margin several months ago, and pollsters say the race is now too close to call.