YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo struck a combative tone Saturday at the first campaign rally of this year's presidential race, addressing criticism head-on ahead of the historic April 17 election.
"I have been silent for four and a half years" in the face of "slander," Widodo told thousands of supporters here in Indonesia's former capital.
"But today in Yogya, I tell you, I will fight!" he said.
Responding to opposition claims that he sold out the country to foreign powers, Widodo argued that his administration had returned assets controlled by outside businesses, including the Rokan oil field in Sumatra, to Indonesian control.
The president also openly criticized his opponent Prabowo Subianto -- something he had previously refrained from doing. Stressing his own resume as mayor of Surakarta and governor of Jakarta, Widodo argued that Indonesia cannot be entrusted to someone with no governing experience.
Attendees showed their support by waving fans emblazoned with the number "1," Widodo's number on the ballot.
Most polling has shown Widodo with a comfortable 20-point advantage over Subianto, a former general who also ran unsuccessfully in the 2014 election. But a recent survey by Kompas, Indonesia's largest newspaper, showed the challenger gaining significant ground, prompting Widodo's camp to try to tighten its grip on the lead.
While the moratorium on large-scale campaign rallies was originally scheduled to end Sunday, Widodo's team received approval from Indonesia's election commission to hold an event a day earlier.
The poll next month will be the first time voters in the world’s third-largest democracy elect a president, vice president and members of the People’s Consultative Assembly, the country’s legislature, on the same day.