Indonesia president chooses cleric as VP pick in 2019 election race

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (2nd L), the head of Indonesian Ulema Council Maruf Amin (3rd L), former president Megawati Sukarnoputri (L) and Widodo’s coalition party leaders submit their documents at the election commission office in Jakarta on August 10, 2018, as Widodo and Amin register for the 2019 presidential election as president and vice president candidates. / AFP PHOTO¬†

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AFP) — Indonesia’s 2019 presidential race took shape Friday with incumbent Joko Widodo choosing to run alongside a conservative Islamic cleric against controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto.

Widodo, whose down-to-earth style and ambitious infrastructure drive has made him popular with many Indonesians, picked cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his vice presidential nominee.

The decision will bolster the president’s Islamic credentials but could be polarizing among more progressive voters.

Amin, 75, is the current chairman the country’s top Islamic authority the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which issues fatwas and has some influence over government policy on Islamic matters.

Known for his disparaging views towards certain minorities, including Indonesia’s LGBT community, Amin was instrumental in the jailing of Jakarta’s former Christian governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama in 2017 by declaring he had committed blasphemy.

Widodo told supporters Friday, however, he wanted an election fought on ideas and achievements, “not divisiveness”.

The pair will square off against Prabowo and deputy Jakarta governor Sandiaga Uno, a former businessman and private equity tycoon.

Prabowo, who lost to Widodo in 2014, officially enjoys the support of the Democratic Party and two small Islamic parties, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Opinion polls show Prabowo is well behind Widodo, who is popularly known as Jokowi.

Prabowo was a top military figure in the chaotic months before dictator Suharto was toppled by student protests in 1998.

Following the strongman’s downfall, he admitted ordering the abduction of democracy activists and was discharged from the military for exceeding orders, but has never faced a civilian court.

© Agence France-Presse