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INDONESIA POLLS: Slick campaign team helps Prabowo close popularity gap

Publication Date : 09-07-2014


With political elites, media tycoons and spin doctors all aboard his campaign train, former special forces general Prabowo Subianto raced to close the gap with rival Joko Widodo in Indonesia's tightest presidential race to date.

His campaign was fought over land, airwaves and cyberspace, thanks to a network of dedicated campaigners tapping on the well-connected grassroots of his seven-party coalition that includes President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat party.

"We have a good mix of coalition parties, whether Islamic or secular, covering the entire spectrum of voters across key battlegrounds," said Gerindra politician Aryo Djojohadikusumo, Prabowo's nephew and the camp's national youth campaign chief.

The cohesion of the parties, which control 60 per cent of the seats in parliament, has boosted the Prabowo campaign, with its easily recognisable red Garuda logo.

So has strong family support - Prabowo's tycoon brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, is campaign financier and lent him a jet for his cross-country campaign rallies.

Hashim also hired American spin doctor Rob Allyn, who had helped former US President George W. Bush win his race for Texas governor in 1994.

The well-oiled campaign machinery ran like clockwork. Volunteers would always lay the groundwork before Prabowo turned up at a village or rally.

Hermawan Sagitha, who lives in Sagara Cipta village of Ciparay regency, West Java, said: "Before Pak Prabowo arrived, their campaign people would knock on our doors, handing out T-shirts and pamphlets and asking us to welcome him."

During the current fasting month, Islamic parties like the Prosperous Justice Party would organise mass breaking of fast sessions while volunteers would distribute snacks and water at busy intersections just before it was time to break fast.

To take stock of campaigning progress, a representative from each party met weekly while a creative social media campaign targeted young voters.

Aryo's youth wing organised mass viewing of World Cup matches.

But the campaign has also been been marred by reports of attempted vote-buying.

So while some say that the well-oiled campaign machinery could be a sign of a stable government should Prabowo win today, others worry the parties in his coalition are only after political gains.

"Indonesians are now faced with this choice - do we choose a coalition of  the transactional or do we choose a coalition of the unconditional," said sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola.

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