Indonesia's incumbent President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, called for unity among voters as he and running mate Ma’ruf Amin rallied thousands of supporters in a multicultural carnival parade in Tangerang in Banten province on Sunday.

At the start of the afternoon rally, Jokowi and Ma’ruf, a cleric, climbed on board a horse-drawn carriage and led the parade as a sea of supporters cheered from the side of the road. Jokowi tossed campaign shirts right and left.

Lending a carnival air were performers of the traditional Javanese Reog Ponorogo dance, Chinese lion dance and Indonesian traditional martial art Pencak Silat.

The candidates made a trip around Tangerang’s main city park and slowed down each time they went past one of the nine raised and decorated platforms set up by local supporters, such as millennials, the women’s club and the Islamic music club.

Jokowi’s rally was in stark contrast to that held by his rival Prabowo Subianto earlier in the day.

While Jokowi celebrated diversity with cultural performances and music ranging from pop to the traditional, Prabowo’s fans, many of them conservative clerics, chanted “Allahu Akbar [God is great]”.

Jokowi is putting extra effort campaigning in Banten, a stronghold of former army general Prabowo.

Banten was part of West Java province before it split into a separate province in 2000. As with the rest of West Java, religion plays a very important role in Banten society and politicians can easily play the religious card, according to observers.

But Banten is also a province with a sizeable population of ethnic Chinese, especially in the area called Teluk Naga, or Dragon Bay.

The April 17 presidential poll will be a rematch between Joko and Prabowo, who lost the 2014 poll by a margin of 6 per cent nationwide.

In Banten, however, which is home to 8.1 million of the 192.8 million voters in Indonesia’s 34 provinces, Prabowo won about 57 per cent of the votes to Jokowi’s 43 per cent.

In his address to the crowd in Tangerang, Jokowi emphasised the need for unity among voters of different political views and backgrounds, saying democracy should bring about joy, as every eligible citizen had the right to choose a leader.

Urging voters to look at each candidate’s experience and track record, Jokowi promised, if he were re-elected, to expand programmes to help the poor and less well-off deal with economic problems, and gain better access to education.

He said graduates of high schools and vocational schools from lower-income families who had good marks would get government scholarships to enrol in universities.

Employees who were laid off would be able to upgrade their skills through government sponsored training programmes.

Housewives from lower-income households would also get special cards to buy rice, sugar and cooking oil at heavily subsidised prices.

One supporter at the rally, Guy Zen, an automotive spare-part seller, brought a broom to symbolise Jokowi’s strong commitment to fight corruption.

He also admired Jokowi’s commitment in promoting pluralism. “The two candidates have said they are pro-pluralism, but Jokowi has proven it,” he told the Straits Times. THE STRAITS TIMES (Singapore)/Asia News Network