Indonesia's Widodo pledges jobs to win back votes

Indonesia's Widodo pledges jobs to win back votes
Jakarta governor and presidential candidate from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle party, Joko Widodo.

BANDUNG, Indonesia - Indonesian presidential hopeful Joko Widodo on Thursday unveiled a plan to tackle poverty and create millions of jobs, in a bid to win back ground from ex-general Prabowo Subianto who is rapidly closing in.

Jakarta governor Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, for a long time looked to be on an easy path to victory at Wednesday's vote to become the next leader of the world's third-biggest democracy.

But a huge poll lead he enjoyed several months ago has dwindled to just a few percentage points, and pollster Roy Morgan this week said the race was now "too close to call".

In a bid to revitalise his flagging campaign, which has been criticised as disorganised and lacklustre in comparison to Prabowo's, Widodo announced new proposals to help the millions in Indonesia who live in poverty.

Unveiled at a campaign event in Bandung, on Java island, the plan included the creation of 10 million jobs over five years, with a focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises, and the digital and creative sectors.

The plan, outlined in a policy document, included proposals to transfer land ownership to the heads of 4.5 million families, and gradually increase the salaries of civil servants, military personnel and police over five years.

And if Indonesia manages to achieve annual growth of seven per cent, Widodo's government would "increase the budget for poverty eradication to include a subsidy of one million rupiah (S$102) per month for poor families", according to the document.

Widodo's camp had already released an election manifesto - but it was criticised as too long and unfocused.

The 53-year-old won legions of fans during his time as Jakarta governor with his common touch, and is seen as a break from a series of recent leaders with deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto.

In contrast, Prabowo was a leading military figure during Suharto's long rule, who has admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists in the months before the dictator was toppled.

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