JAKARTA - Indonesia's presidential frontrunner has picked a popular former vice president who is a formidable political operator as his running mate for elections in July, a party official said Monday.
Joko Widodo, who has become a hugely popular figure during his time as Jakarta governor due to his common touch, has selected Jusuf Kalla, 72, as his vice presidential candidate, the official said.
Analysts say picking a veteran politician is a wise move. While Widodo, 52, has been hailed for being a break from previous leaders with deep roots in the autocratic Suharto era, he has never had a role in national politics.
"Last night the party decided on the vice presidential pick, which is Pak J. K. (Jusuf Kalla)," Tjahjo Kumolo, secretary general of Widodo's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was quoted as saying in local media.
Widodo, known universally by his nickname of "Jokowi", was expected to officially announce Kalla as his running mate later Monday.
Kalla, a wealthy businessman, was vice president during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's first term in office, from 2004 to 2009.
He has argued that he was a key actor behind many of the achievements of this period, from the fight against corruption to a reduction in deadly attacks by Islamist militants.
"Jokowi really needs someone that can help him out, who has experience in governing and the bureaucracy," said Yunarto Wijaya from pollster Charta Politika.
"Kalla is also a popular figure."
Widodo has been a political phenomenon since being elected Jakarta governor in 2012 and the presidential poll on July 9 is seen as his to lose. He has temporarily stepped aside from his post as governor to contest the election.
He rose to prominence after serving as mayor of a small town on the main island of Java and has won many admirers with his down-to-earth style. He makes regular tours of Jakarta's slums in a casual shirt and jeans.
Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra party, an ex-general accused of committing human rights abuses during the era of Suharto, is set to run against him for the presidency.
Widodo maintains a strong lead in opinion polls although his hopes of an easy ride to the presidency were dealt a blow at legislative elections in April, which set the stage for the presidential polls.
His PDI-P did not do as well as expected, meaning the party has had to form a larger coalition than it might have liked to put Widodo forward for the presidential polls.