SINGAPORE - Both sets of candidates for Indonesia's presidential race marked the official start of campaigning yesterday with prayers for safety and victory, and pep talks to team members, before setting out to win over 186 million eligible voters.
Over the next month, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and his running mate Jusuf Kalla, and former general Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Hatta Rajasa, will travel through the 5,248km-long archipelago in what many expect will be an intense contest to be Indonesia's seventh president.
This is the first time that residents of South-east Asia's largest economy will see a straight race for the presidential election. But observers feel the fact that voting for the July 9 polls will take place during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins on June 28 - as well as during the World Cup, which kicks off next week - will lower temperatures somewhat.
The latest opinion polls show Mr Joko, commonly known as Jokowi, still in the lead over Mr Prabowo, but the gap between the two has narrowed in recent months.
A national survey by pollster Populi Centre done last week and released yesterday found 47.5 per cent of respondents would pick the Jokowi-Kalla ticket against 36.9 per cent for the Prabowo-Hatta ticket if the election were held now, with 14.4 per cent undecided and 1.2 per cent not choosing either.
"The ability of both pairs to draw sympathy and support from these undecided voters will be key, and both will have to make the most of the campaign period," Populi Center head Nico Harjanto said, noting that Jokowi supporters like his closeness to people, while Prabowo supporters appreciate his tough leadership.
Yesterday, Mr Joko and leaders of his Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) attended a ceremony at the party's headquarters.