Presidential candidates hit by mud-slinging

Presidential candidates hit by mud-slinging

INDONESIA - Online reports and social media posts have in recent days sprung up claiming Jakarta governor and presidential front -runner Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) was really the son of tycoon Oei Hong Leong.

Last Thursday, a mock obituary of Mr Joko - better known as Jokowi - began circulating on Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messenger service.

What stood out was the Chinese lettering above his name - Ir. Herbertus Joko Widodo (Oey Hong Liong) - as well as the notice beneath it saying he would be cremated.

The aim was clear: Cast doubt among ill-informed voters about Mr Joko's ethnicity, faith and loyalties, in a bid to sway support away from him by playing on communal sentiments.

These smears have been shot down. But such attempts to incite racial sentiment have begun to surface and become more noticeable as the July 9 presidential election approaches, and there are fears they could rear their ugly head as campaigning picks up next month for what many expect to be a close contest between Mr Joko and former special forces general Prabowo Subianto.

The latest developments come as nationalistic slogans gain resonance, and calls to reject "asing dan aseng" - or foreign and Chinese - intervention in the election become more common on social media.

Indonesia officially abolished the ethnic distinction between indigenous and Chinese citizens after the fall of president Suharto. In recent years, however, several politicians and their supporters have played the ethnic card.

Many of the recent attacks take liberties with the truth, among them: Jokowi is Joko Oei, and he was baptised Herbertus Handoko, never mind that he has gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The identity of the groups behind these slurs is unclear, but the smears have been widely circulated by hardline groups and opponents of Mr Joko.

Financial analyst Lin Che Wei, who heads the effort to revitalise Jakarta's historic Old Town, rebutted the attacks on Twitter, posting: "Jokowi is 53, Oei Hong Leong 66… If rumours that Jokowi is Oei Hong Leong's son then OHL had a child since he was a teen! What nonsense!"

Mr Oei was born in Indonesia and is now one of Singapore's richest men.

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