JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s Joko “Jokowi” Widodo received a major boost in the race to become president of the world’s third-largest democracy on Monday when he picked popular former vice president Jusuf Kalla as his running mate in the July election.
Kalla is seen as bringing strong business credentials to the presidential ticket, as Jokowi is regarded as relatively inexperienced having enjoyed a meteoric rise on the political scene since becoming the governor of Jakarta in late 2012.
The Jakarta Stock Exchange briefly rose more than 1 percent to the highest level in nearly a year, while the rupiah strengthened against the dollar ahead of the announcement.
“While nothing is set in stone yet and there are still months to go before the July 9th presidential election date, the immediate market reaction from today’s announcement will be one of relief and hope,” said Wellian Wiranto, an economist with OCBC Bank.
Jokowi said his Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) had finalized the ticket. Candidate pairs need to register with the election body by Tuesday.
Recent opinion polls show a pairing of Jokowi from the main opposition party PDI-P and Kalla from the country’s second-biggest party Golkar had a significant lead over their main rivals. If no ticket wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the July 9 election, there will be a second round in September.
Jokowi and Kalla are up against rivals Prabowo Subianto, a former general with a checkered human rights record, and his running mate Hatta Rajasa, a former chief economic minister.
One recent poll showed Jokowi’s lead had narrowed slightly, although he was still 15 points ahead of Prabowo.
Jokowi’s popularity lies in a common touch and straightforward style, that sets him apart from an aloof and elitist political establishment that has long dominated Indonesia.
“Voters think (Kalla) would be a good match because Jokowi is new on the national stage and Kalla is perceived as getting things done and experienced in government,” Douglas Ramage, a Jakarta-based analyst told Reuters. “They complement each other.”
Critics are wary that Jokowi remains under the influence of PDI-P chairwoman and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and her inner circle of advisers. As long-time head of the party, Megawati has the final say on major political decisions.
“After consulting with all heads of parties that support PDI-P and after consulting with Megawati, we decided last night that the (vice presidential) candidate that will stand beside me will be Jusuf Kalla,” Jokowi announced at a political rally in central Jakarta with Kalla by his side.
Party officials have said Megawati would continue to advise Jokowi on policy matters if he came into office.
In March, Megawati appeared to put aside her own presidential ambitions and nominated Jokowi as her party’s presidential candidate.
Three parties have joined the coalition led by PDI-P, including Indonesia’s most popular Islamic party, giving Jokowi nearly 40 percent of the total votes from the parliamentary election held on April 9.
Other coalition partners include smaller parties led by media magnates who own two popular TV networks, a valuable asset to Jokowi in a country where television remains the main source of information.
Aburizal Bakrie, the head of Golkar, said last week his party would cooperate with Jokowi, but it has yet to officially back his coalition.
Kalla, 72, served as vice president during outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first term in office from 2004 to 2009. Since leaving office, he has remained in the public eye as the head of the Indonesian Red Cross, a humanitarian aid organization with extensive reach across the vast archipelago.
A native of the eastern island of Sulawesi, Kalla is also hugely popular within his own Golkar party and is likely to encourage support from both party members and voters.
Kalla, who was an early supporter of Jokowi, is the owner of the Kalla Group, a large conglomerate that owns businesses in autos, construction, textiles, commodity trading, finance and energy.
Additional reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Randy Fabi; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Nick Macfie