JAKARTA - The two front runners in Indonesia's presidential elections have each secured an Islamic party as a coalition partner, drawing clearer battlelines for the July 9 face-off.
The moderate National Awakening Party (PKB) of former president Abdurrahman Wahid declared its support for Mr Joko Widodo on Saturday night, after senior leaders and clerics gave their vote of confidence to the Jakarta governor.
Meanwhile, the United Development Party (PPP), the only umbrella Islamic party allowed under the Suharto era, gave its backing to former special forces general Prabowo Subianto yesterday morning after a marathon national meeting.
The two leaders now hope the move will marshal support among a significant constituency of voters who gave the four Muslim-based parties that entered Parliament 30 per cent of the vote on April 9.
Mr Joko is from the nationalist Indonesia Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) while Mr Prabowo heads the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
The PKB, which got 9.04 per cent of votes and emerged the largest Islamic party in Parliament, is closely linked to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim mass organisation with some 40 million members.
PKB chairman Muhaimin Iskandar told reporters he was confident their parties would be able to draw on their bases of support in the Javanese heartland - NU members and farmers.
The PDI-P, which received 18.95 per cent of the votes, had already secured backing from the National Democratic (NasDem) party of media mogul Surya Paloh, which got 6.72 per cent of votes, ensuring it passed the threshold of 20 per cent of the 560 seats in Parliament, or 25 per cent of the popular vote, needed to field a presidential ticket.
But party leaders said the PKB endorsement is a boost and leaders of all three coalition partners are set to meet in Jakarta tomorrow to formally announce their support for Mr Joko's candidacy.
Mr Joko may yet face a tough competition, with the possibility that the other two major Islamic parties will swing to Mr Prabowo, enabling him to meet the nominating threshold. Gerindra got 11.81 per cent of votes.