Indonesia president's campaign chief warns on fake news, undecided voters

Chief of Indonesia's presidential election campaign for Joko Widodo, Erick Thohir, talks during a media briefing in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb. 27, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 27 February 2019

Indonesia president's campaign chief warns on fake news, undecided voters

  • Widodo enjoys a double-digit lead in most opinion polls over retired general Prabowo Subianto ahead of the April 17 election

JAKARTA: The head of Indonesian President Joko Widodo's re-election campaign said on Wednesday supporters should not be complacent over the incumbent's lead in opinion polls, given the high number of undecided voters and threat of fake news.
Widodo enjoys a double-digit lead in most opinion polls over retired general Prabowo Subianto ahead of the April 17 election, which is a repeat of the bitterly fought race in 2014.
"Right now we need to focus on undecided voters," said Erick Thohir, a billionaire businessman picked as campaign chief after he organised the Asian Games hosted by Indonesia last year.
Speaking to a group of foreign journalists, Thohir put the number of undecided voters at 12 to 15 percent of the electorate in the world's third-biggest democracy.
Thohir, who controls media and entertainment assets along with stakes in soccer and basketball clubs around the world, said many of the undecided were young and first-time voters.
Widodo was polling well in the most populous island of Java, and gaining ground in battleground provinces such as West Java and Banten where he struggled in 2014, Thohir said.
"We're still confident in West Java we can win," he said, but he added the campaign was struggling in parts of Sumatra island, including West Sumatra and Aceh.
Thohir said it was important not to underestimate the impact of fake news, often circulated on social media, and said the campaign had learned from the 2016 U.S. elections that there was a need to push back in these situations.
"This is why ... when there is fake news we need to make a strong statement," he said.
Indonesian election watchdogs have reported a spike in fake news during the campaign amid concerns about the impact in a country of avid social media users.
"Mr Jokowi is one of the victims in the last few years," said Thohir, referring to the president's nickname.
Widodo has been falsely accused in rumours often spread online of being Christian, having Chinese ancestry or being a communist.
All are sensitive accusations in the Muslim-majority country where the communist party is banned and suspicions linger over the wealth of its ethnic Chinese community and the influence of Beijing.
The two main presidential campaigns have promised to run a clean race.
Thohir, 48, who has been touted as a potential future minister, said he would not seek a cabinet job if Widodo won and looked forward "to going back to reality" as a businessman after the election.


Protests flare as India’s parliament set to vote on citizenship bill

Updated 32 min 34 sec ago

Protests flare as India’s parliament set to vote on citizenship bill

  • Police in Assam’s main city of Guwahati used water cannons and tear gas as they clashed with protesters
  • The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Monday that Washington should consider sanctions against Shah, a close associate of Modi
NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Hindu nationalists pushed for final parliamentary approval on Wednesday for a law that critics say undermines the country’s secular constitution by granting citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from three neighboring countries.

Having obtained assent from the lower house of parliament a day earlier, Home Minister Amit Shah tabled the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the upper house and a vote is expected late on Wednesday.

Opposition parties, minority groups, academics and a US federal panel have contested the proposed law, which would for the first time provide a legal route to Indian citizenship based on religion, calling it discriminatory against Muslims.

The bill seeks to give citizenship to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs, who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.

Protests against the bill turned violent on Wednesday in India’s ethnically diverse northeastern region, with the army deploying troops in Tripura state and putting reinforcements on standby in neighboring Assam, where police battled thousands of protesters.

Police in Assam’s main city of Guwahati used water cannons and tear gas as they clashed with protesters, who had blocked roads with flaming tires.

“The bill will take away our rights, language and culture with millions of Bangladeshis getting citizenship,” said Gitimoni Dutta, a college student at the protest.

Despite Shah’s assurances that safeguards will be put in place, people in Assam and surrounding states fear an influx of settlers could lead to a competition for land and upset the region’s demographic balance.

In northern India, thousands of students at Aligarh Muslim University began a hunger strike in protest.

Some opposition Muslim politicians have argued that the bill is targeted against the community, accusing the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for trying to render them “stateless.”

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Monday that Washington should consider sanctions against Shah, a close associate of Modi, if India adopts the legislation.

Introducing the bill in the upper house, Shah defended his government’s move, saying the new law only sought to help minorities persecuted in Muslim-majority countries contiguous with India.

“For India’s Muslims, there is nothing to worry about, nothing to debate. They are citizens, and will remain citizens,” Shah said.

Unlike the lower house, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a clear majority, the ruling party will likely find it more challenging to push the bill through the upper house, as it is unclear whether it can garner enough support from regional parties.