The Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has declared its formal backing for presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Hatta Rajasa, and ordered its cadres and supporters to back the two men in next week's election.
The declaration of support, coming five days before campaigning ends on Saturday, is set to give a boost to Mr Prabowo at a time when opinion polls show him closing in on the lead held by front runner Joko Widodo. Observers now see the race as too close to call.
Party leader Syarief Hasan told a press conference yesterday the Democrats had instructed all branches and members to give their support to Mr Prabowo and Mr Hatta. Dr Yudhoyono, who is party chairman and had earlier said he - but not necessarily the party - would stay neutral, was not present.
But his son, party secretary-general Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, who is married to Mr Hatta's daughter, was present, alongside senior party stalwarts.
However, Mr Syarief did not confirm or deny when asked whether the decision reflected the position of Dr Yudhoyono, state-run Anta- ra news agency said.
The widely expected decision came two weeks after 115 of the 148 Democrat MPs in the outgoing Parliament declared their support for Mr Prabowo.
Welcoming the formal decision at an event yesterday, Mr Prabowo said this meant his Gerindra Party-led coalition now had the support of parties that control 60 per cent of the new Parliament.
"Now we have the means to provide a strong and stable government for the next five years," he added.
Mr Syarief said the party's decision was partly because the plans of the Prabowo- Hatta ticket were similar to those of the Democratic Party, especially in continuing the economic and social welfare programmes of the Yudhoyono administration.
It was unclear whether party members who chose to break ranks would be penalised, but several senior party members have been actively backing Mr Joko and his running mate Jusuf Kalla.
A member of the Democratic Party's board of advisers, Dr Achmad Mubarok, told The Straits Times the move was not unexpected. "SBY's order was to support a presidential candidate whose platform is closest to that of the Democratic Party. We know that would be Prabowo," he said, using Dr Yudhoyono's popular initials. But he stressed the President would remain neutral.
He also said Dr Yudhoyono allowed party members to support either candidate, but they could not say their decision was endorsed by him.
"The President's staying neutral can be translated as not wanting to take a risk. This is surprising and confusing," said political analyst Boni Hargens.
Observers say the party's decision to back Mr Prabowo would be seen as an endorsement from the President.
Pollster Indo Barometer's executive director Muhammad Qodari said, when releasing a poll on Sunday showing Mr Joko's lead over Mr Prabowo narrowing to 3.4 points, that voters who were generally satisfied with the Yudhoyono administration would vote for the candidate the President supports.
This article was first published on July 01, 2014.
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