The Jakarta Post
Presidential candidate Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo visited several Islamic boarding schools in Tasikmalaya, West Java, on Thursday to fend off persistent rumors that he is actually a Christian.
When visiting Bustanul Ulum Islamic boarding school in Tamansari, Tasikmalaya, Jokowi's campaign team distributed meal boxes along with pictures of Jokowi performing the haj and umrah (minor pilgrimage) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia ' first in 2003 and then with his family in 2012.
The pictures were distributed to dispel rumors claiming that the letter 'H' in front of Jokowi's name stood for Herbertus, implying that Jokowi was not born a Muslim, which could be a problem for Muslim constituents.
School principal Didih Hudaya explained to his students that the letter in fact stood for haji, a title that Muslim men who have performed the haj often add to their name.
'At first, I did not want to respond to this kind of rumor. But then it appeared in a tabloid called Obor Rakyat, and it had an effect on some people,' he said.
Copies of Obor Rakyat were recently sent to Islamic schools and mosques in West Java and Central Java. In its latest edition, the tabloid labeled the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which nominated Jokowi, a Christian party.
The story was allegedly written by a columnist working for the inilah.com news portal, identified as Darmawan Sepriyossa. Representatives of inilah.com could not be reached for comment.
The Jokowi camp said it would be reporting the issue to the police for defamation. 'We will report the journalist to the police next week,' Alexander Lay, a lawyer for the Jokowi team, said without naming names.
Jokowi said that his team had listed at least 23 issues of the tabloid that were used to attack him. 'One of the rumors was that I would cancel the teachers' certification allowance [if elected]. That doesn't make sense. In fact, I would raise it,' he said.
While issues regarding his identity and religious background have been used to attack Jokowi, rival presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto's alleged involvement in past human rights violation cases ' which contributed to his dismissal from the military ' have been used to undermine the credibility of the former lieutenant general.
Recently, a copy of Prabowo's military discharge letter circulated on social media sites.
Prabowo's brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, pointed the finger at the Jokowi camp for the leak.
'This was a confidential state document. [The culprit] is obvious. [The opposing camp] is worried because Prabowo-Hatta's approval rating continues to increase,' he said, referring to Prabowo and his running mate, Hatta Rajasa.
Jokowi shrugged off Hashim's allegation and responded with a counter claim: 'What's that about pointing the finger? Who was responsible for the Obor Rakyat articles?'
Despite denying that the leak came from his side, the deputy secretary of Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla's campaign team, Teten Masduki, pointed out that the period of confidentiality on the dismissal letter had expired.
'The dismissal occurred a long time ago,' he said, adding that Prabowo's dismissal and his alleged involvement in human rights violations would continue to haunt him. 'It did five years ago [when Prabowo ran for vice president] and it is happening again now. It just can't be avoided.'
Teten said a smear campaign based on identity and religious background was the easiest way to influence grassroots voters.
'Pak Jokowi is very popular with people at the grass roots; that's why the other camp is resorting to such rumors to influence them,' he said.
Meanwhile, in Palembang, South Sumatra, Prabowo reiterated his commitment to wrest control of the nation's natural resources from foreign companies.
'Our natural resources need the government and good management, which should side with the people,' he said before local leaders.
During the event, Prabowo, who was joined by Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie, Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) chairman Anis Matta, Democratic Party politician Marzuki Alie and South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin, was named an honorary resident of Palembang, which is also Hatta's hometown.
Meanwhile, Hatta continued on the campaign trail Thursday with a visit to Central Java.
His first stop was at a tea factory in Pekalongan, where he praised the factory's management for absorbing a great many workers. 'Factories like this have to be labor intensive to help our young people. So, in order to eradicate joblessness, this is very helpful,' Hatta said.
He also reached out to the region's Muslim community by visiting An-Najah Islamic boarding school in Batang village, Pekalongan, where he was greeted by thousands of members of the Rifa'iyah Islamic organization.
Ansyor Idrus contributed to the story from Palembang.
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