| JAKARTA, June 22
JAKARTA, June 22 One of the two hopefuls in
Indonesia's presidential election has been accused of being a
closet Christian, the other of being a foreigner and unfit to
lead the nation.
As the race for the presidency tightens, mudslinging between
supporters of Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and
ex-general Prabowo Subianto is increasing, forcing even the
police to get involved.
Jokowi's team asked the police this month to arrest the
publisher of a little-known tabloid after it falsely reported
that the Muslim governor from the Javanese city of Solo was an
ethnic Chinese Christian.
A national police spokesman said authorities were
investigating the case against Obor Rakyat, or People's Torch, a
newspaper available in Islamic boarding schools and mosques
Jokowi has been forced to defend himself against the
attacks, which are mainly focused on his race and religion -
potent topics in a country that is 95 percent native Indonesian
and has the world's largest Muslim population.
Some opinion polls show that Jokowi's once huge lead over
Prabowo has shrunk to single digits, a rapid decline that
pollsters attribute to a successful smear campaign against the
frontrunner ahead of the July 9 election.
"People in rural areas and people with middle to lower
income and education tend to believe the black campaign (against
Jokowi). That is why the electability of Jokowi is decreasing
significantly," said Burhanuddin Muhtadi, the executive director
of pollster Indonesian Political Indicator, which surveyed
thousands of potential voters on the topic.
Jokowi's party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle,
recently posted a photo on social media showing the candidate
among Haj pilgrims in 2003, proof, it said, that he is Muslim.
Meanwhile, some of Jokowi's supporters have stepped up their
own negative campaigning against Prabowo.
Wimar Witoelar, a Jokowi supporter and former spokesman of
former president Abdurrahman Wahid, apologised last week for
posting on his Twitter and Facebook accounts a picture of
Prabowo's team alongside Osama bin Laden and other militants,
according to the Jakarta Post.
Attacks against Prabowo have also included questions about
his mental well-being and claims that he is a Jordanian citizen.
But the majority of the negative campaigning has been on
Prabowo's human rights record as a top general, in particular
during unrest that brought down his former father-in-law and
long-serving autocrat Suharto in 1998.
Wiranto, Prabowo's former military boss and now a leader of
a small party backing Jokowi, has released details of a military
council's findings which said Prabowo had deliberately
misinterpreted orders and told troops who were not under his
command to arrest political activists.
Wiranto insisted that he was not making the announcement in
his capacity as a politician.
Face to face, the two candidates have been the epitome of
civility. At two presidential debates, they have hugged and
shaken hands and left it to their vice presidential running
mates to attack the other.
Muhtadi, from the polling agency, said the attacks on
Prabowo's human rights record were not as effective as the smear
campaign against Jokowi because the former general's past was
already largely known.
"Prabowo's human rights issues are not really influencing
voter behaviour when compared to the black campaign against
Jokowi," Muhtadi said.
"This is why it is hard to predict who will be the winner in
the next election."
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)