KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesian trader Darsil Abd Muis has been spending weekends and all his free time together with some 500 volunteers in Malaysia campaigning for presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto.
In the 2014 Indonesian presidential elections, despite losing to president Joko Widodo overall, Prabowo managed to win the overseas vote in Malaysia.
“I am hoping Prabowo will win again in 2019,” Darsil, head of Gerindra Party's Malaysia branch, told Channel NewsAsia in an interview.
"I support Prabowo because he is firm, cares about the little people, religiously tolerant and has a vision for developing Indonesia," said Darsil who has worked and lived in Malaysia since 1988.
Malaysia is home to the largest Indonesian population outside of the country with an officially-registered 700,000 workers. But unofficially, their numbers are estimated to be above two million.
Hence, Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia are an important group amongst overseas voters for both camps.
Darsil said efforts to raise Prabowo's profile started as early as April 2018, where his team approaches factory workers, construction workers and others at their work place and residence.
“We help them register themselves as voters. We have bought five printers to help us with this effort,” said Darsil.
“All these activities are funded with my own money,” he claimed.
ASSISTANCE FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
Apart from helping workers register themselves, Darsil and his team also help migrant workers with a host of other issues. This includes helping them get new Indonesian passports when they are cheated by their agents and left undocumented in Malaysia.
“As you know, many workers who come to Malaysia end up being cheated by agents who take their money, passport and then disappear. We help them to get new passports from the embassy,” said Darsil.
Gerindra has a track record for helping migrant workers in Malaysia.
Prabowo’s strong electoral showing in Malaysia back in 2014 could be partly attributed to him saving a migrant worker from the death penalty. He personally hired a top lawyer to defend her in court.
The migrant worker, Wilfrida Soik was freed from death row for killing her employer who had purportedly abused her.
JOKOWI'S TEAM ALSO HARD AT WORK
Meanwhile, the incumbent president, popularly known as Jokowi, also formed a campaign team in Malaysia last September.
"We help migrant workers who are sick, victims of human trafficking as well as helping them in sending home the bodies of workers who died (in Malaysia) to their respective villages," Tengku Adnan, an advisor to the Overseas Campaign Team of Jokowi, told Channel NewsAsia.
Tengku Adnan is a member the National Democrat party, which is part of the nine-party coalition backing Jokowi in his re-election bid.
He said the team also helps workers to get new passports and hold free education programmes for migrant workers' children in Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsula.
Jokowi's team also visits migrant workers at construction sites, dormitories at factories and others.
Apart from extending social welfare services, they are also spending time in explaining Jokowi's policies and what has been achieved in developing the country.
"We also straighten out news, which are hoaxes, that are being circulated by giving them facts from verified sources," said Tengku Adnan.
"This (fake news) is a big challenge that we must face and overcome, even though it is difficult," he added.
PRABOWO SUPPORTERS FAR MORE ‘MILITANT’ IN CAMPAIGNING
According to polls, Jokowi enjoys a healthy lead over Prabowo. However, Prabowo’s campaign team appears to be far more militant in their efforts to canvass support, said sources.
In a survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Circle which polled 1,200 respondents from Aug 12 to 19, 52.2 per cent chose Jokowi and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin.
Only 29.5 per cent chose Prabowo and his running mate Sandiaga Uno. The remaining 18.3 per cent were undecided or preferred not to answer.
There are over 190 million eligible voters in the vast archipelago.
READ: Indonesia's presidential hopefuls woo millennials, Muslims as election in focus
The energy of Prabowo’s supporters in Malaysia underscore their commitment to close the gap.
Darsil showed up at the interview with more than 10 supporters who enthusiastically expressed support for Prabowo.
Gerindra’s Kuala Lumpur office was first established in 2009. It was shut in 2014 but operations resumed in December 2017.
To date, the party has opened branches in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. A Brunei branch is scheduled to be opened this month, according to Darsil.
PRABOWO’S FRIENDSHIP WITH ANWAR
Prabowo’s supporters also spoke enthusiastically about his long-standing friendship with Malaysian prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
Darsil and his team believe if Prabowo wins the April presidential election and Anwar takes power in Malaysia, life would improve for Indonesian workers in Malaysia.
“We believe if Prabowo becomes president and Anwar becomes PM, the plight of Indonesian workers would be much better as Anwar has a good understanding of their condition via his long-standing friendship with Prabowo,” Darsil claimed.
In 2018, Prabowo paid two private visits to Anwar following the latter's release from prison.
Then, Anwar tweeted: “Visited by my old friend, who is also chairman of Gerindra Party Prabowo Subianto at the office.”