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Indonesians flock to presidential campaign rallies as criticism against the government mounts

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Tens of thousands of Indonesians flocked to presidential campaign rallies on Saturday to air their concerns over the state of democracy in the country.

President Joko Widodo is facing mounting criticism over his lack of neutrality after he threw his support behind frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, who has picked Widodo's son as his running mate.

Widodo has distanced himself from the governing Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, under whose banner he ran in 2014 and 2019.

The party's presidential candidate, Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java province, addressed a crowd of more than 130,000 supporters and stressed the need for government neutrality in managing military and police forces and civil servants. He said he received reports of intimidation against regional leaders and civil society during the 75-day campaign period in the world’s largest archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.

“Let the people decide their vote freely,” Pranowo said. “Let the military, police and civil servants work to serve people, let them be neutral and provide the best service to this nation.”

The nomination for vice president of Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Widodo’s 36-year-old son, is widely seen as representing Widodo’s implicit support of Subianto, the current defense minister who launched his third bid for the presidency.

Raka’s candidacy has been the subject of heated debate because the Constitutional Court had to make an exception to the minimum age requirement of 40 for vice presidential candidates to allow him to run.

Later, the chief justice, who is Widodo’s brother-in-law, was removed by an ethics panel for failing to recuse himself and for making last-minute changes to election candidacy requirements.

Activists, students and university lecturers in Indonesia in recent days have expressed concern over democratic standards in Indonesia, citing unethical, corrupt and nepotistic practices and worsening quality of life in the country.

“This is a strong alarm for democracy in Indonesia,” Pranowo said. “Let’s put this whole political process in a healthy mind and heart.”

Nearly 205 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in Feb. 14 presidential and legislative elections. They're shaping up as a three-way race among Subianto, a former special forces general, and two former governors — Pranowo and former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan.

The three contenders will appear in the final of five televised debates together with their running mates on Sunday evening.

Subianto has vowed to continue Widodo's development plans and has maintained a big lead over Pranowo and Baswedan for months, but some analysts say the race is tighter than it appears.