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Indonesia’s desperate housewives chase selfies on election trail

Tears stream down Lilis Hastirini’s mascara-smudged face after she waited hours to snap a selfie with Indonesia’s president, only to be thwarted by a crush of other female fans with the same idea.

It is a take-no-prisoners battle on the election trail in this selfie-mad nation, where few shots count more than a close up with “everyman” leader Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman who rose from a riverside slum to high office.

Hastirini was among some 10,000 other desperate housewives, mostly aged between 20 and 50, who braved searing heat as they screamed and jostled, pushing past security guards to reach Widodo at an event in Sragen on Java island this week.

“I’m sad, I couldn’t get a picture with him,” the 37-year-old told AFP as she sobbed and wailed.

“He seems like such a nice person, kind of fatherly.”

The lanky, heavy-metal music-loving 57-year-old, best known as Jokowi, seems happy to oblige housewives and other key voters — including millenials who account for about one-third of the electorate — as he fights to keep a wide lead in the race for the presidency on April 17.

Some 192 million Indonesians are set to cast a ballot in the world’s third-biggest democracy, with a record 245,000 candidates vying for positions from the presidency and parliamentary seats all the way down to local council jobs.

And garnering support on social media is essential. Indonesia is one of Instagram and Facebook’s biggest markets globally, with some 62 million and 130 million users, respectively.

Jokowi’s sole rival is Prabowo Subianto, a retired military general and son-in-law of the late dictator Suharto, who has ditched his trademark suit and tie for a campaign-casual khaki safari suit with sunglasses.

Prabowo, as he is known, is also trying to win over women voters and fans online, balancing his strongman image with an Instagram account of him and his cuddly cat, Bobby.

The 67-year-old and vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno — a youthful 49-year-old business magnate — have generated online fan clubs including the Housewives Party in Support of Prabowo-Sandiaga, the Militant Housewives’ Force and even the Voluptuous Housewives Who Fight for Prabowo-Sandi.

Both candidates are regularly mobbed by adoring female fans — though Jokowi appears more at home performing in front of the crowds.

Back in Sragen, Hastirini almost reached Jokowi as he was exiting the arena when someone stepped on her seven-year-old daughter’s foot.

In leaping to help her little girl, she had missed her moment with Jokowi.

Also empty-handed was high school teacher Mariana Wahyu, who said she never bothered to get a selfie with her-then neighbour Jokowi back when he was mayor of Solo city.

“O Allah, had I known then that he would become president, I would have taken a lot of pictures with him,” she said in Central Java’s Sukoharjo city.