Indonesian presidential hopefuls begin poll campaign with events from east to west

Arie Firdaus
Indonesian presidential hopefuls begin poll campaign with events from east to west Indonesian presidential candidates and their vice presidential nominees Prabowo Subianto (left) with his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka (second from left), Ganjar Pranowo (third from left) with his running mate Mahfud MD (third from right), and Anies Baswedan (second from right) with running mate Muhaimin Iskandar, hold their ballot numbers for next year’s elections, as they pose for a group photo at the election commission headquarters in Jakarta, Nov. 14, 2023.
Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Campaigning for Indonesia’s upcoming presidential poll started Tuesday as two of three candidates began electioneering in full swing with rallies and speeches in the capital Jakarta, and all the way in Papua in the east and Aceh in the west. 

Frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, ruling party nominee Ganjar Pranowo, and fellow candidate Anies Baswedan will compete for support from nearly 205 million voters who will also be electing national and local legislature members on Feb. 14, 2024. 

The presidential hopefuls are vying to succeed Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the popular leader who will step down next year after two terms due to constitutional limits. Prabowo did not campaign on Tuesday.

Ganjar, the 55-year-old candidate from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) who is the former governor of Central Jakarta, and his running mate Mohammad Mahfud MD, the country’s top security minister, campaigned on two opposite ends of the vast archipelago.

Ganjar visited Merauke, a town in the restive Papua region, where he met with local leaders and residents. Mahfud, 66, went to Sabang Island in Aceh, the westernmost and most conservative province, where he joined a religious gathering and a cultural festival.

“We deliberately chose two points in Indonesia, one in the east end, one in the west end, because we want to embody the unity of Indonesia,” Ganjar said.

“Mahfud and I are ready to tackle head-on all the challenges the country faces, so that we can improve the lives of all Indonesians,” Ganjar said, according to a PDIP statement.

At the start of this year, Ganjar and Prabowo were almost neck-and-neck in opinion polls. The former’s star, however, declined after he faced a backlash from football fans for his role in the decision by global football body FIFA in March to strip Indonesia of its right to host the Under-20 World Cup.

Ganjar Pranowo (left), a presidential candidate for the upcoming Indonesian general election, shakes hands with Kalimus Mahus, the head of Wendu Matara village, during a campaign event in Merauke, South Papua province, Indonesia, Nov. 28, 2023. [Antara Foto/M Risyal Hidayat/via Reuters]

Meanwhile, support for Defense Minister Prabowo surged after March. He is ahead with 40.6% support, followed by Ganjar with 27.8% and Anies with 23.7%, in an opinion poll by Indikator Politik Indonesia released this month.

The 72-year-old former army general who lost to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka – Jokowi’s eldest son who is the mayor of Surakarta (Solo) – will launch their campaign on Dec. 1, their team said. 

“We put our trust in election officials and law enforcement agencies to organize the elections in the best way possible,” Prabowo said in a speech at the General election Commission on Monday, local media reported.

“All we want is to let the people speak and decide freely,” the minister added.

Prabowo, the chairman of Gerindra party, is backed by a coalition that includes Golkar Party, the second largest party in the House of Representatives, and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

The Indikator Politik Indonesia poll found that Prabowo’s lead over Pranowo had widened after he announced Jokowi’s eldest son Gibran as his running mate

How that came to be was a matter of intense controversy in October, with Jokowi and the judiciary harshly criticized by democracy activists for nepotism. The president has still not publicly said which candidate he backs, although almost all believe his support is for the Prabowo-Gibran ticket.

Earlier this month, an ethics body at the Constitutional Court dismissed Jokowi’s brother-in-law, Chief Justice Anwar Usman, from his position, over ethical violations tied to an Oct. 16 ruling that allowed Gibran, 36, to seek the national office as a vice-presidential candidate.

Prabowo had served under autocratic Indonesian leader Suharto, then his father-in-law, who ruled Indonesia with an iron hand for 32 years. 

The army discharged Prabowo for his alleged role in the kidnapping of political activists as commander of the army special forces (Kopassus) after the 1998 resignation of Suharto. Prabowo has denied committing or being a party to any human rights violations.

Prabowo Subianto (right), Indonesia’s defense minister and a presidential candidate, and his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is the eldest son of Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Surakarta’s mayor, greet supporters as they arrive at the election commission headquarters to register for next year’s presidential election, Jakarta, Oct. 25, 2023. [Aprillio Akbar/Antara Foto/via Reuters]

Anies starts on old stomping grounds

Sticking to the capital and its suburbs as a starting point for campaigning were outlier candidate Anies – a popular figure among conservative Muslims – and his running mate, 57-year-old Muhaimin Iskandar. 

They are backed by a coalition of parties led by the secular National Democratic Party, although Muhaimin leads the National Awakening Party (PKB), a coalition member connected to Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization. 

Anies, 54, began electioneering by visiting Tanah Merah, a village in North Jakarta. He then visited Bogor district in West Java. 

“It was in Tanah Merah that people asked me to run for governor in 2016,” he said.

Anies included Bogor on day one of his campaign because of its proximity to Jakarta and as it is one of the largest districts in West Java, said state news agency Antara.

“With a population of 5.6 million people, Bogor district is important. West Java is also a province with a highly significant position for contesting the presidential race,” Anies said, according to Antara. 

More than half of the registered voters are in six provinces in Java, Indonesia’s most densely populated island.

Anies won the gubernatorial election in 2017 by defeating the incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, an ally of Jokowi, in a divisive race marred by religious tensions and mass protests. 

On Sunday, Anies hinted that he opposed Jokowi’s legacy-building plan to move the national capital from Jakarta to a location on Borneo island starting next year. 

“What Indonesia needs today is to distribute its growth,” Anies said, responding to a question from a reporter about the idea of one of his allies to keep the capital in Jakarta.

“We should not build only in one location. That would create new inequality,” he said.

Indonesian presidential candidate Anies Baswedan rides a motorcycle with his wife Fery Farhati as he kicks off his campaign in Jakarta, Nov. 28, 2023. [Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

Before kicking off their campaign, the candidates on Monday signed a declaration at the electoral commission office in Jakarta, where they vowed to conduct a peaceful, orderly and hoax-free election, and avoid the politicization of ethnicity, religion and race.

The 2024 election campaign period, which will last 75 days until Feb. 10, is shorter than the one in 2019 that lasted six months and three weeks. The campaign season four years ago was tainted by insults and divisive rhetoric between the supporters of Jokowi and Prabowo, who were the only rivals.

Fadli Ramadhanil, a program manager at the Association for Elections and Democracy, an NGO, said the 2024 presidential election would likely see less conflict.

“Mass polarization is no longer a big issue because there are three pairs of candidates,” Fadli told BenarNews.

That, however, wouldn’t stop dirty tricks such as misinformation and mudslinging, especially on online platforms and with the aid of technologies such as artificial intelligence that can produce fake videos or images, he said. 34

The main campaign issues are expected to be economic justice, social welfare and the environment, said Dominique Nicky Fahrizal, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank.

“Those issues are very relevant because they are close to the people’s lives,” he said.

According to him, only Ganjar’s platform explicitly pledged to reform the legal and police systems.

Another analyst said the Prabowo-Gibran ticket did not offer much novelty in terms of its programs.

“Their vision and mission statement incorporate a lot of Jokowi’s ideas, so it can be said that their platform is the continuation of Jokowi’s government,” Firman Noor, a researcher at the government’s National Research and Innovation Agency, told BenarNews.

At 204.8 million, the number of eligible voters registered at the election commission for the 2024 election is 12% higher than it was in 2019. And 52% of them are between the ages of 17 and 40.


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