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Politics

Jokowi will be judged on signature economic policies

Indonesian president formally registers to run in April 2019 general election

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, and Ma'ruf Amin. The president tapped Ma’ruf as his running mate in the upcoming election to shore up his pro-Islamic credentials. (Photo by Shotaro Tani)

JAKARTA -- Welcomed by hundreds of supporters and reggae music at a venue in central Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday registered as a candidate for next year's general election, formally kicking off his campaign for a second term.

Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, will be pitched against longtime rival Prabowo Subianto in April's poll for leadership of the world's fourth most populous country.

"We want to invite all Indonesians so that the 2019 election will be a celebration of democracy," Jokowi said.

Jokowi will be judged on economic progress since taking office in 2014. The most recent growth figures were the strongest under his leadership to date, albeit with a boost from Islamic holiday spending. Inflation has remained within the central bank's target range and a universal health care program has been introduced. The president has also cut red tape for business.

However, his signature infrastructure push has stalled. A high-speed rail line between Jakarta and Bandung -- awarded to China in 2015 -- is far from completion. Moreover, a mass rapid transit system in Jakarta was due to be finished before this month's Asian Games, but construction delays mean it will not be running until next year.

There is even talk that the president is looking to cut back on projects so that Indonesia can reduce imports of construction materials to support the rupiah, the country's currency.

Next week will see two key economic events: a central bank policy meeting on Wednesday that may usher in the fourth rate hike in five meetings; and the release of a draft budget plan on Thursday.

The president maintains a high support rating, hovering between 40% and 50%.

Peter Mumford, director of Asia at Eurasia Group, sees the odds for Jokowi's re-election at about 70%.

"Jokowi benefits from a strong lead in the polls, incumbency advantage, popular appeal, and improving (but still weak) economic growth," Mumford wrote in a report. "However, we caution against assuming Jokowi as a shoo-in. Concerns over inequality continue to grow and Jokowi will be partly at the whim of global macroeconomic developments."

Knowing he holds a mixed record, Jokowi has avoided steps that might provide the opposition with ammunition for attack. He shunned the official presidential car for Friday's ceremony, instead using a Toyota station wagon.

He appointed Ma'ruf Amin, leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country's top Muslim clerical body, as his running mate to fend off allegations that he is not fully pro-Islam.

Meanwhile, Jokowi's opposition rival, Prabowo Subianto, will seek to woo voters with protectionist measures. He has hinted at reducing the number of foreign workers in the country and allocating more natural resources to domestic companies.

But his difficulty in nominating a candidate for vice president points to an uphill battle for the former army lieutenant general. He did not announce the nomination of Sandiaga Uno, the incumbent Jakarta deputy governor, until midnight on deadline day.

Prabowo is said to be low on funds after his failed 2014 presidential election campaign. He will have to count on Uno's financial muscle in a country where hopefuls are said to need upward of 7 trillion rupiah (nearly $500 million) to run a campaign.

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