Jockeying begins 2 years ahead of Indonesian general election

Arie Firdaus
Jockeying begins 2 years ahead of Indonesian general election An Indonesian participating in the presidential election votes at a polling station in Jakarta, April 17, 2019.

National polls in Indonesia may be two years away, but intense politicking has already begun in party circles with covert meetings, shifting alliances, dodgy pledges of support, and, of course, feverish speculation among the rank and file.

A big change already is in the offing in Southeast Asia’s largest country, with the government announcing this week that campaigning for the 2024 election would be cut to 75 days, from the six months allowed in the previous two electoral cycles to reduce divisiveness and law-and-order issues. Weeks-long stretches of supporters of rival candidates trading religious or ethnic slurs had marred previous campaigns across the archipelago country.

The presidential election scheduled for Feb. 14, 2024, is shaping up to be hotly contested as no potential candidate polled higher than 30 percent in recent surveys, analysts said. A run-off would be held on June 26, 2024, if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote.

Because President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is ineligible for a third term, political parties are expected to court politicians who perform well in opinion polls, including those with no party affiliations, such as Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, the analysts said.

“Parties are being compelled to form coalitions early because there are relatively few potential candidates to consider,” said Arya Fernandes, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party and the United Development Party this month allied to form the United Indonesia Coalition so they could be eligible to field a presidential candidate, because the coalition holds 27 percent of seats in the House of Representatives.

Under election law, political parties or coalitions may nominate a presidential candidate only if they hold at least 20 percent of the House seats or have garnered 25 percent of the vote in the previous election.

On Thursday, leaders of the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party and the National Awakening Party, which was founded by scholars at the country’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, met to discuss forming their own coalition.

Recent opinion polls indicate that Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo, Defense Minister Prabowo, a two-time presidential candidate, and Baswedan are most popular among voters.

“The votes for the three popular candidates are relatively tight so the presidential election is likely to take place in two rounds,” Fernandes said, predicting that three coalitions would field presidential candidates.

Survey results

In a survey by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting released this week, Ganjar led with 30.3 percent support in the polls, followed by Prabowo at 27.3 percent and Baswedan at 22.6 percent, while nearly 20 percent of the respondents were undecided. None the three potential leaders have announced plans to run.

Also this week, alleged former militants and those supporting an Islamic caliphate apparently declared their support for Baswedan. The Jakarta governor’s real supporters called the declaration a fake announced by his opponents to make it look like he is backed by Muslim radicals, despite his liberal credentials as a former academic.

Still, conservative Muslims backed Baswedan in the 2017 gubernatorial election against a Christian ethnic-Chinese politician, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

During the 2017 campaign, Ahok, who was seeking re-election, faced trial amid a series of massive street demonstrations staged by conservative Muslim groups who clamored for him to be ousted from office. A year earlier, Muslim groups started holding protests to demand Ahok be tried for blasphemy after a video and an incomplete quote attributed to him posted on Facebook made it appear like he was saying that the Quran deceived people.

“The opposition camp might field Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, mostly for his popularity among conservative Islamic voters,” Deasy Simandjuntak, a political scientist and associate fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS) in Singapore.

“But it is unclear if this voting bloc is as strong as in 2019 after recent government moves, such as banning the firebrand Islamic Defenders Front,” she wrote on the East Asia Forum website, referring to the vigilante group disbanded by the government in 2020.

Elsewhere, the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle could decide to pair party stalwart Ganjar with Puan Maharani, the daughter of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri who leads the party.

But recent apparent spats between party politicians and Ganjar suggest such a pairing would not work.

“There’s bad blood between Puan and Ganjar. I think it has something to do with internal jockeying for presidential candidacy,” said Ujang Komarudin, a political science lecturer at the Jakarta-based Al-Azhar University.

Meanwhile, some observers have said Jokowi could be the kingmaker, but it is not clear if he has chosen a potential successor.

“Normally incumbents would try to field a candidate who would continue their legacy, but Jokowi does not have his own party and so will not get to choose,” Deasy said.

“The political battleground itself will likely shift as parties form new coalitions following the candidates they endorse.”


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