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Indonesian presidential race tightens after surprise move

JAKARTA--Indonesia's presidential race unexpectedly tightened Monday when the country's second-biggest party shifted its support from frontrunner Joko Widodo and backed a former general competing against him.

The decision by the Golkar party, the former political vehicle of long-serving dictator Suharto, means that ex-general Prabowo Subianto now has a bigger coalition backing him than Widodo has.

Analysts said it was a shock move after Golkar — which received almost 15 percent of the vote at legislative elections in April — previously signaled it would support Widodo's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) at the July 9 presidential election.

But while observers said it would close the gap, they added it will still be hard for the general to catch up as he remains far behind the popular Widodo, who is known by his nickname Jokowi and won legions of followers during his time as Jakarta governor.

While Widodo is seen as a fresh face, Subianto in contrast has deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto and has been accused of committing human rights abuses.

“I am certain this match will change Indonesia for the better,” said Golkar's chairman, tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, after his party's support for Prabowo's Gerindra party was announced.

Subianto “is a firm figure and will ensure stability of this nation,” he added.

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