With Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his main challenger Prabowo Subianto announcing their running mates for the April 2019 election, the stage is set for an extended campaign. These will be the fourth direct presidential elections since the end in 1998 of the three-decade-long military-backed dictatorship of Suharto. Both candidates are expected to unveil their road maps to give a boost to job-creation and reduce inequality in the largest economy in Southeast Asia. Equally, in a country with the largest Muslim population and also one whose population is extremely diverse, the two campaigns are shining a light on the larger struggle for pluralism. Mr. Widodo, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, is seeking a second term, and his choice of Ma’ruf Amin, a conservative Islamic cleric, as running mate appears to be aimed at averting the alienation of the more orthodox sections. A Muslim of Javanese descent, Mr. Widodo, referred to as Jokowi, was the target of a social media smear campaign in the 2014 elections, suggesting that he was an ethnic Chinese Christian and a member of the banned communist party. This attempt to tap into the resentment against the small but influential minority community is believed to have narrowed his victory margin. Four years ago, too, his rival was Mr. Prabowo, of Gerindra. An economic nationalist, he has denied the accusations against him of human rights violations while heading Indonesia’s special forces — charges that led to a ban on his entry into the U.S.
The onus is clearly on President Widodo and Mr. Prabowo to ensure that the airing of contrary political opinion does not cross the limits of civility and decency in this fledgling democracy. But Jokowi, as the candidate whose victory in 2014 inspired optimism about a break from politics-as-usual, perhaps has the greater responsibility to resist a tilt to appease hardline and intolerant opinion.