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May 27, 2017

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Indonesian voters place hopes in would-be president's past

SOLO, Indonesia -- In the Indonesian city of Solo, where powerful sultans once reigned supreme, residents are fervently backing a commoner who transformed their city in his bid to become president.

It's hard to find anyone in Solo who isn't wild about their former mayor Joko Widodo, a softly spoken man with a slight frame better known as Jokowi.

They are hoping he will give the world's third-largest democracy a much-needed facelift as he did in Solo, a functional yet charming city on the congested island of Java.

But, as the July 9 poll approaches, Widodo's once enormous lead over his only rival, ex-general Prabowo Subianto, has shrunk dramatically, and some are questioning whether his man-of-the-people approach makes him too timid to lead Indonesia.

The sprawling archipelago's public sector is rife with corruption, its economy is slowing and poverty is widespread. More than half the country's 250 million people live below or around the US$2-a-day poverty line.

Elected as Jakarta governor in 2012, the 53-year-old Widodo rose to national fame for pioneering a new style of leadership, visiting poor communities affected by his administration's plans and getting his hands dirty with public works projects.

But this strength could become a weakness if Widodo is elected president, political analyst Muhammad Qodari from polling firm Indo Barometer predicts.

"His impromptu visits to communities, going down into the drains and sewers to check on operations was his way of asserting control, but how will he do that at the national level?" Qodari told AFP.

Getting the Job Done

Those in Solo who lived under Widodo's administration say their city is living proof that despite his gentle demeanor, Widodo is in fact firm, decisive and gets the job done.

During his seven years running the city he moved slum dwellers into multi-story flats with working toilets, relocated hundreds of vendors clogging footpaths to a market, and spruced up public parks — solving the kind of issues that plague every Indonesian city.

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