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Asia

Joko Widodo: The people's politician

Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, is viewed as the favorite candidate to win July 9 Indonesian presidential election. But the gap between him and his rival, Prabowo Subianto, is narrowing.

Until 2005, Jokowi was little known in Indonesia. He was a furniture seller in the Javenese city of Solo. Later, he was elected to the post of the city's mayor, and his modest style of ruling Solo made him instantly popular. He reformed the city's administration, expanded its welfare program, and battled rampant corruption.

In 2010, Jokowi was re-elected with more then 90 percent of the votes. The national press started writing about the "mayor of Solo," who was "clean and incorruptible." That means a lot in Indonesia, where many politicians are known to be corrupt.

Joko Widodo

Jokowi is 'media's favorite'

Two years later, Jokowi left his post and moved to the country's capital, Jakarta. His party - the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) - nominated him as its candidate for Jakarta's governorship. His opponent was then-governor Fauzi Bowo, a rich land owner who was born in Jakarta and had excellent connections with the city's political elite. But Jokowi, with his charisma, managed to defeat his opponent.

A media savvy politician

One factor that contributed significantly to Jokowi's popularity was his almost daily and spontaneous "local visits." He went to Jakarta's slums unannounced "to listen to the complaints of the inhabitants," and visited government offices for inspections. The media always accompanied him and reported from these slums.

Although he remains modest, Jokowi is aware of the media's influence. "I learned in Solo how the media works," he said once. "I visit people who have problems"

After a long period of uncertainty, the 53-year-old politician finally announced in March that he would run for president. So far, he is leading all opinion polls.

A vague political program

Jokowi's critics say he has only presented a vague political program so far. The presidential candidate says he wants to strengthen the country's anti-corruption agency, invite more foreign investors, stimulate the domestic market, and improve the infrastructure in Indonesia's underdeveloped regions. But nobody is sure how is he going to do that. "We don't need to talk, we need to work," Jokowi says.

Despite the fact that Indonesia's economy has improved and democracy has been strengthened in the past years, corruption and religious intolerance remain widespread. Jokowi says Indonesia needs a "mental revolution."

Prabowo Subianto, a former general, is Jokowi's main rival. Prabowo's reputation is that of a strong guy. Over the past weeks, the gap in opinion polls between Jokowi and Prabowo has narrowed. Prabowo is known for being an excellent strategist and a master of election campaigns. Unlike Jokowi, he promises to lead the country with a "strong hand."