Jokowi Heads to Mecca for Pilgrimage as Indonesia Vote Nears

(Bloomberg) -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo, bidding for a second five-year term to run the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, arrived in Saudi Arabia for a minor pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca days before the election.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh on Sunday and is also scheduled to call on Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the president’s office said in a statement. Jokowi, accompanied by his wife Iriana, will leave for Mecca later in the day to perform the Umrah ritual, his office said on Sunday.

Campaigning for the presidential and legislative elections set for April 17 ended on Saturday and almost 193 million voters are expected to cast their ballots to elect their next president and about 20,000 members to the national parliament, provincial and municipal bodies. Jokowi, who has faced questions in the past about his religious credentials, made a dash to Mecca just days before the 2014 elections which he won narrowly.

The incumbent, who has picked senior Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, is pitted against former general Prabowo Subianto in a rematch of the 2014 election. Prabowo, as Subianto is commonly known, is backed by hardline Islamic parties and groups.

“It is difficult not to link or see his visit to Saudi as a political activity related to the election,” said Siti Zuhro, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences in Jakarta. “He did it in 2014 just before the presidential election. In this election, Jokowi has been trying to establish his Muslim identity or religiosity since he announced Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate. Visiting Saudi and going on Umrah may be the grand final attempt.”

As the fifth and final pillar of Islam, every able-bodied adult Muslim must undertake a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, at least once in their lives if they can afford to do so. The Umrah isn’t compulsory and has fewer rituals than the Hajj. Muslims account for almost 90 percent of Indonesia’s 263 million population.

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