The ex-Jakarta governor has portrayed himself as the anti-establishment candidate in the presidential campaign.
JAKARTA: Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan has portrayed himself as the anti-establishment candidate in Indonesia’s presidential campaign, climbing to second place in polls on the back of a message that includes opposing a costly capital move to Borneo.
The former education and culture minister is now the dark horse candidate expected to face frontrunner and defence minister Prabowo Subianto in any potential second round runoff vote.
He had been floundering in last place but in recent weeks his opposition to President Joko Widodo’s legacy move to shift Indonesia’s political centre away from Jakarta has helped his campaign come alive.
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A former lecturer, the 54-year-old has been viewed as outclassing his rivals in the presidential debates and praised for offering an alternative, with rights groups complaining of democratic gains being rolled back under Widodo.
In an interview with AFP in December, Baswedan said if elected he would govern from Jakarta instead of planned capital Nusantara, set to open in August on the east coast of Borneo.
“Is it ready? The readiest infrastructure is here,” he said, referring to the current capital.
He has also pledged to strengthen the country’s corruption eradication commission to root out graft.
Baswedan was a minister under incumbent leader Widodo before becoming Jakarta governor in 2017.
But on the campaign trail he has attacked Widodo’s administration on freedom of speech and nepotism, pressuring Subianto who chose Widodo’s eldest son as his running mate.
His agenda of change has caught on with conservative Islamic factions in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
‘Narrative of change’
With his two main rivals either running in the outgoing president’s party or serving in his government, Baswedan has occupied the position of top government critic.
The strategy appears to be taking him closer to a second-round clash after overtaking former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo in the polls.
“Ganjar is trending downward, Anies is trending upwards,” said Djayadi Hanan, executive director of independent pollster Lembaga Survei Indonesia.
“Anies runs with the grand narrative of change. Ganjar is unclear.”
Baswedan was born in West Java and later studied in Japan and the US, obtaining a doctorate in political science.
The father-of-four studied in the Javan city of Yogyakarta and became a rector of a Jakarta university in 2007.
He himself moderated the presidential debates in 2009 but now finds himself at the centre of them.
Baswedan entered politics in 2013 and became the campaign spokesman for Widodo a year later.
He was rewarded with a ministerial position after his boss’ win, but left office after less than two years, with Widodo giving no reason for his removal.
During his campaign for Jakarta governor, Baswedan was accused of stoking religious divides and courting the Islamic vote against the Christian incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ally of Widodo.
Baswedan was a popular governor of Jakarta, more than doubling public transport coverage across the city in his five-year term.
But his tenure was marked by efforts to undermine the legacy of his Christian predecessor, including by discontinuing his flagship programme of regular river dredging to stem floods.
Now, Baswedan will seek to replace his former boss despite all the signs pointing to Subianto, aiming for an upset in the world’s third biggest democracy.