Despite an ominous round of regional elections on June 27 that seemed to signal trouble for President Joko Widodo in national elections, Jokowi, as the president is known, continues to enjoy the highest level of electability of any of the prospective candidates for the next round.
That round, to be held in April 2019, looks increasingly likely to feature the resurrection of the family of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono through SBY’s 39-year-old son, Agus Hartimurti Yudhoyono (above), a former Harvard University student and Indonesian Army major.
It appears likely that only Jokowi and former Special Forces General Prabowo Subianto, the president’s challenger in the 2014 race, will contest the election, with Agus a potential vice presidential factor. Prabowo, the leader of the Gerindra Party, is approved by only 17 percent of a survey released last week by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, with Jokowi coasting away with 46 percent, meaning the former special forces general is looking for a strong vice presidential candidate to bolster his campaign.
Solid Performance for Jokowi
Jokowi has built his popularity on a solid economic performance and a reputation for honesty and being a man of the people, famously at one point descending from his car in a traffic jam to walk instead of ordering his motorcycle outriders to clear a path through the pileup. He has faced a concentrated whispering attack that he is a closet Christian, with Muslim hardliners largely backing Prabowo, an aristocrat from one of the country’s oldest and richest families. The survey found that Jokowi's support comes from older people with lower levels of education who live in rural areas, and voters with lower incomes.
Since early July, Prabowo and his Gerindra Party have been intensively lobbying SBY and the Democrats for their support. Prabowo, who was accused of human rights violations in the 1990s by the United Nations, needs the support of another party with a strong vice presidential candidate who could boost his electability. SBY’s Democrat Party is a likely companion. The two forces scheduled a July 18 meeting to discuss the coalition, but canceled it when SBY was hospitalized because of fatigue.
The meeting was rescheduled for today.
Although SBY remains popular because of his 10-year stewardship of the country, ending in 2014, his family lacks the grass-roots clout of others like Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the country’s founding president, Sukarno, or the business and political connections of the family of Suharto, whose scandal-steeped reign lasted from 1966 to 1998. SBY lost considerable popular influence when he left office.
SBY and his wife, Ani, both display considerable ambition to spark Agus’s political career. That has been an uphill climb, with Agus drubbed in the racially-tinged 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election by Anies Baswedan, who won 42.99 percent of the vote.Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who won 39.9 percent, left Agus with only 17.05 percent.
Two polling agencies, Alvara Research Center and Poltracking Indonesia, say Agus is the most-favored candidate for vice president, both for Prabowo and Jokowi although Jokowi is believed to have turned Agus and SBY down.
"If the Democrats offer AHY (Agus) as a vice presidential candidate, that's the most realistic calculation," said Indonesia Poltracking Executive Director Hanta Yuda.
Young and the offspring of a president and party leader, Agus is an interesting match for Prabowo. The 66-year-old Prabowo realizes that his age is a handicap with the younger generation. Agus, Prabowo said, can attract voters under the age of 45.
"Why I say we are also interested to AHY, the number of voters under the age of 45 years is huge," Prabowo said.
Indeed, based on data from the Election Commission (KPU), the number of young voters in Indonesia in the 2019 presidential election is about 70 to 80 million of 193 million voters, or about 35 to 40 percent. The amount is predicted to affect the election results.
Jokowi Leading, But Not Safe
Although Jokowi consistently leads surveys conducted regularly by various reliable survey agencies, his position is considered unsafe. Researchers from the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), Adjie Alfaraby said the percentage of Jokowi's electability only around 46 percent, referring to his agency's survey. "Jokowi is still the strongest, but still faltering," Alfaraby said.
He said there are five factors that could harm Jokowi's position as the strongest candidate, including a vitriolic attack campaign that has started and grown more massive. One of the symbols of the resistance movement against Jokowi is a Twitter campaign with the slogan “#2019GantiPresiden” (#2019ReplacePresident). Of 1,200 surveyed respondents, 49.8 percent said they liked the campaign.
"Jokowi is increasingly shaky because the 'attacking campaign' seems to be more massive and structured," said Alfaraby.
The #2019GantiPresiden was first popularized by the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and became a very popular hashtag on social media like Facebook and twitter. The anti-Jokowi faction popularized it through t-shirts, mugs, and demonstrations.
Second, the government’s openness to foreign workers in all sectors with higher salaries has raised irritation. Most societies strongly oppose the entry of foreign workers into the country on a supposition that it denies local people jobs. The government has denied the issue. "If more and more public know this issue, then the resistance to the incumbent even stronger because it is considered to support the entry of foreign workers, " he said.
A third factor is the perception that the government is unable to provide employment. "Economic issues that concern the public are the high prices of basic foods, rising unemployment, and the difficulty of finding jobs," he said.
Shaky with Muslims in a Muslim Nation
Fourth, Jokowi is not popular in Islamic political voter groups. LSI in the survey asked specific questions to Islamic voters, what they thought about the view that religion should be separated from politics. 47.8 percent stated that religion and politics shouldn’t be separated, with 35.8 percent pulling for church-state separations.
The political Islam faction is gaining strength in the wake of the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race. For months, people watched Islamic groups use religion as a weapon to attack Basuki, a Chinese-Christian, eventually driving him from his post. He was later convicted of blasphemy on charges that were widely viewed as trumped up. That has led to a public perception that Jokowi is weak and vulnerable.