Indonesia leader’s volunteer network endorses ex-general Prabowo for president

JAKARTA (Reuters) -The vast volunteer network of outgoing Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Saturday endorsed retired general Prabowo Subianto for president in February’s election.

The endorsement from the “Projo” network, seen as a proxy for the president, is the strongest signal yet that the incumbent will back his former rival in the closely contested race. He has not yet officially endorsed any candidate.

Budi Arie Setiadi, Projo chief and the president’s communications minister, declared the group’s support during a press conference at Prabowo’s Jakarta home.

Budi added that Jokowi, as the president is known, had described several characteristics of his ideal successor. “We conclude what the president meant was Prabowo Subianto.”

“He is a brave man and is committed to the welfare of Indonesians,” Budi said.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, will hold simultaneous presidential, local and national legislative elections in February next year.

Speaking beside Budi, Prabowo said he was honoured to have such support, pledging that he would continue Jokowi’s programmes if he wins the election.

“We must continue the strong cornerstone made by President Jokowi,” Prabowo said.

Before declaring its support for Prabowo, Projo held a national meeting in Jakarta’s Indonesia Arena stadium which was attended by Jokowi.

Initially, the declaration was supposed to take place during the meeting but they changed the location to Prabowo’s home at the last minute. The reason for the change was unclear.

During his speech in Projo’s national meeting, Jokowi asked his volunteers not to press him to announce his favoured successor. “The time will come, just be patient,” he said.

While Jokowi does not lead a party of his own, he has an informal following of millions of volunteers who are active on social media and who promote his policies and presidency, especially ahead of elections.

The Projo network helped to propel him to victory against Prabowo in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections.

Jokowi has in recent months shown tacit support for Prabowo despite being a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which has nominated former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo as its presidential candidate.

Arya Fernandes, an analyst who heads the politics department at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Projo’s decision to back Prabowo was a strong indication that the president supports Prabowo.

“It represents the President’s stance,” Arya said.

Prabowo, who currently serves as Indonesia’s defence minister, topped an opinion poll published earlier this month, followed by Ganjar in second place and Anies Baswedan, the former Jakarta governor, in third.

Presidential candidates and their running mates are due to register with the election commission from Oct. 19-25.

(Reporting by Stefanno Sulaiman and Ananda TeresiaEditing by William Mallard, Edmund Klamann and Helen Popper)