(Reuters) – As a former governor from outside Indonesia’s political and military elite, Ganjar Pranowo is banking on his populist appeal and folksy charm to stay in contention in the Feb. 14 presidential election, where he is struggling to make a mark.
With a humble background and affable, man-of-the-people style strikingly similar to two-term President Joko Widodo, Ganjar was a shoo-in to succeed him, buoyed by the assumed backing of the wildly popular incumbent.
But his political clout is now crumbling after Widodo, better known as Jokowi, betrayed his own party and started tacitly campaigning for rival candidate and former military hard man Prabowo Subianto.
Ganjar now finds himself in a tricky spot, tied to a campaign and political vision shaped by Jokowi, but without his crucial support.
Ganjar has shrugged off Jokowi’s overtures to Prabowo as “politics”, responding by doubling down on the populist agenda that won him two terms as governor of Central Java, pledging to create 17 million new jobs, expand social welfare and boost higher education access for the poor if elected.
The silver-haired son of a policeman whose family ran a mom-and-pop store, the 55-year-old former student activist has served his province for two decades, with two terms each as a lawmaker and governor.
Ganjar built his reputation on pro-poor policies that slashed interest rates on micro-loans, helped farmers buy fertiliser and mandated civil servants to give 2.5% of their monthly salaries to support health, education and disaster relief programmes.
But some issues have dented his track record, including a controversial call last year to stop Israel taking part in the Under-20 soccer World Cup, for which Indonesia was subsequently dropped as host. In 2016, he faced widespread farmer protests against the construction of a cement factory he approved.
Ganjar has been focusing on an intense grassroots campaign, visiting poor communities and staying overnight in modest village homes. Online, supporters have taken to what they see as his sporty and active image.
“Our strength is to keep moving, meeting people and deploying all the resources we have,” Ganjar told Reuters in a December interview.
Ganjar is still trailing in polls and was a whopping 32 points behind Prabowo in surveys released late last week by Indikator Politik and Lembaga Survei Indonesia, though not far behind a third candidate, ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.
Under Indonesia’s election rules, if no candidate gets over 50% of the votes, the contest goes to a second round between the top two in June.
“At this point Ganjar’s best hope is to make it to a run-off against Prabowo,” said James Guild, an Adjunct Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“It will still be a steep uphill climb because Ganjar vs Prabowo would be two continuity candidates competing against one another…that’s a basic political reality that will be hard to overcome.”
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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