Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement attends a political rally in Jakarta in September 2017. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ ucanews.com)
Indonesia kicked off a seven-month long presidential campaign on Sept. 23 with the signing of a peace declaration by the two main candidates.
Catholic leaders called on them to make sure they stick to the pledge and make sure the election slated for April next year passes off peacefully.
President Joko Widodo, from the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle, and his rival Prabowo Subianto, from the opposition Great Indonesia Movement, signed the declaration during a ceremony organized by the General Elections Commission at the National Monument in Jakarta.
Commission chairman Arief Budiman led the candidates in delivering a pledge "to conduct a safe, orderly, peaceful, honorable campaign that does not stoke ethnic, religious, social or racial divisions and free from vote buying."
Budiman said the campaign would end on April 13, 2019 — four days ahead of the election.
Similar events were held in other regions for candidates in national and local legislative elections that take place on the same day.
Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the bishops' Commission for the Laity, warned candidates to honor their promise. "Their pledge can be easily forgotten after a few days or months when the competition really heats up."
Sectarian issues could easily come to the fore as seen in last year's Jakarta poll where campaigning was largely conducted on religious lines because one of the candidates was a Christian.
"All stakeholders must work together to keep the campaign peaceful," he said, suggesting that lay Catholics and church people should work to ensure this happens.
Yohanes Handoyo Budhisedjati, chairman of Jakarta-based Vox Point Indonesia, a Catholic lay organization, said failure to conduct a peaceful campaign would serve to widen divisions that already exist in Indonesia. "Lay Catholics must not be easily provoked as that will make any given situation worse," he said.
Besides the two presidential candidates, 7,968 candidates from more than 20 parties will be seeking seats in both the 575-seat national assembly and in local legislatures in next year's election.
More than 185 million people will be eligible to vote in the polls.