Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was recently released from jail, has joined the political party of President Joko Widodo, just two months before the elections.
Mr Basuki said in Bali on Friday that he has joined the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the biggest party in Parliament, raising speculation over whether he would be campaigning for Mr Joko, his close ally who is seeking re-election in the April 17 polls.
Active campaigning by Mr Basuki could hamper, not help, the President's campaign. This is because Mr Basuki, a Chinese-Christian politician, is an easy target for Islamic conservatives and hardliners, a group largely seen as being against the re-election of Mr Joko.
Mr Basuki lost in the 2017 gubernatorial election after his opponent played the religion card, triggering massive street rallies involving tens of thousands of Muslims protesting against him. Mr Basuki was later convicted of blasphemy against Islam. He was sentenced to a two-year jail term and released on Jan 24 after getting remission.
A senior PDI-P official said yesterday that Mr Basuki, widely known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, will not be involved in the ongoing presidential campaign because of personal matters. PDI-P secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto told The Sunday Times: "He will not take part in the campaign as he has his own agenda abroad for 21/2 months."
Mr Basuki, 52, had indicated that he would soon marry his girlfriend Puput Nastiti Devi, 21.
Mr Hasto said that as an ordinary party member, Mr Basuki will be given assignments and undergo processes such as political training.