Head-to-head battle in Indonesia presidential elections

A youth walks near a banner of Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto with his running mate Hatta Rajasa in Jakarta June 3, 2014.

JAKARTA - Indonesia's two presidential candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto last night signed a pledge and shook hands to conduct their election campaigns peacefully, on the eve of the month-long official campaigning period.

Both men called on their volunteers to canvass for votes in an orderly manner, as several hundred supporters from each side packed a hotel ballroom in south Jakarta, with armoured police vehicles, water cannon and over 600 policemen standing guard outside.

Election Commission member Arief Budiman told reporters: "They should not insult or defame one another, or carry on with black campaigns, and notify the police of mass gatherings so there are no clashes, given we have just two pairs of candidates and levels of support are high."

The ceremonial commitment to a peaceful campaign has been a regular tradition at Indonesian elections over the years, but this year's event comes as the country sees its first-ever head-to- head presidential contest from the start.

Already, there have been appeals to religious sentiment and sporadic incidents of violence.

In recent days, a campaign poster of Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) in Jakarta was suspiciously burned before dawn by unidentified persons.

Muslim hardliners attacked a Catholic prayer group at a home of a local campaigner for the Joko-Kalla ticket in Yogyakarta.

Both Mr Prabowo's brother and Mr Jusuf Kalla have visited the victims and condemned the attacks.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday called on all parties at a national meeting of election and security officials to "cease and desist from all forms of fraud and election violations, including various forms of intimidation and coercion".

He took particular aim at the fierce cyber war taking place on social media between supporters of Mr Joko, the Jakarta governor, and his running mate Mr Kalla on one side, and those backing Mr Prabowo, a former special forces general, and his running mate Hatta Rajasa on the other.

These attacks have, among others, questioned Mr Joko's faith and Mr Prabowo's human rights record.

"Sometimes, I'm glad that people care about politics, but I'm concerned that the language and tone is not proper," Dr Yudhoyono said. "As of this morning I've got 5,011,000 followers on Twitter, and almost 3 million followers on Facebook, so I know what's going on in this country."

The President also took issue with the biased reporting of several TV stations on the presidential election and urged journalists and media owners to think of the larger public and not who they support. "Our media is divided," he said. "The mass media is for the public and the public interest, not just the shareholders or their interests."

His comments came as the Press Council and Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) highlighted violations by five TV stations and called on them to play fair.

Both agencies found that MetroTV, owned by National Democratic (NasDem) party chief Surya Paloh, focused much more on the Joko-Kalla ticket, while TVOne, linked to Golkar chair Aburizal Bakrie, favoured the Prabowo-Hatta ticket. The stance of the two popular 24-hour news channels dovetail the political leanings of their owners.

The Prabowo-Hatta ticket also received significantly more favourable coverage on RCTI, MNCTV and Global TV stations - all owned by media mogul Hary Tanoesoedibjo who backs the pair.

The next four weeks will offer ample time for the candidates to present their platforms as they travel across the country and address political rallies.

Campaigning ends on July 5, followed by a three-day cooling off period before voting on July 9. The president will be sworn in on October 20.

This article was first published on June 4, 2014.
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