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Indonesian presidential race: The more the merrier for Widodo

Old rival Subianto wants united opposition, but other parties are seeking their own candidates

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, right, will likely face a rematch against Prabowo Subianto, center, in the 2019 election. But former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono may also play a key role. 

JAKARTA -- As opposition parties choose candidates for Indonesia's 2019 election, President Joko Widodo appears headed for a rematch against his foe from the hotly contested 2014 race.

Indonesian voters will select a president and legislators in April, with Widodo eligible for a second five-year term. Presidential candidates require nomination by a party or coalition holding 20% or more of the seats in the country's parliament.

The ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is expected to tap Widodo for re-election, while opposition parties that have yet to back a candidate will do so as soon as this month.

The Great Indonesia Movement Party, known as Gerindra, has already nominated Prabowo Subianto, who ran against Widodo in the two-way campaign of 2014.

The two men differ little on policy. But whereas Widodo is known as a populist consensus-builder, Subianto, a former lieutenant general, advocates a stronger leadership.

Recent opinion polls show Widodo with a comfortable lead over Subianto. But if the country's entire political opposition backs the Gerindra candidate, the race becomes a toss-up, according to polling firm LSI. Subianto has already begun tapping potential cabinet officials, drawing from across the opposition to broaden his support.

More candidates may join the race, however. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is seeking a contender for the Democratic Party. That contender could be his oldest son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Jakarta last year.

Former military commander Gatot Nurmantyo could make his own presidential bid.

An unlikely -- but not impossible -- scenario involves a team-up between Widodo and Subianto. People close to the two men are negotiating for Subianto to accept the role of Widodo's running mate. Such an alliance could avert a campaign that sparks economic upheaval and sows social division. But citizens might protest being left with only one viable choice.

The results of 171 regional elections held June 27 do not suggest a clear winner for next year. Many high-profile races went to candidates tied to Widodo: Mayor Ridwan Kamil of Bandung appears to have been victorious in the election for governor of West Java, home to 31 million voters. But the opposition made a stronger showing overall than many expected.

All sides also will assess how much of the vote went to Islamic parties in those regional races as they weigh candidates for president and vice president. Presidential running mates are expected to register as such in early August.

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