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Indonesian Political Uproar Puts Prabowo in ’24 Pole Position
Jokowi Turns Away from PDI-P
A debacle over the dominant Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) decision to block Israel’s participation in the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup games to be held in Bali could fracture the party and lead President Joko Widodo to abandon his backing of the front-runner Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo in the 2024 presidential sweepstakes and move toward Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, previously considered an also-ran because of his earlier repeated unsuccessful presidential forays. The noise at home led to FIFA's decision to cancel the holding of the event in Indonesia and to impose administrative sanctions.
No action has happened yet and, given the grey areas of Indonesian politics, Jokowi could well return to his earlier trajectory backing Ganjar as a loyal PDI-P stalwart. But, disappointed with the attitude of his party, which wrecked his campaign to host a future World Cup to cement his place in Indonesian history along with moving the country’s administrative capital 1,000 kilometers to the east to Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Jokowi is said to have embraced other parties to show his strength before PDI-P.
“Even the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia was supposedly not opposed to Israel playing,” said a western observer with deep ties to the government, “This was so monumentally stupid, it defies belief. Jokowi had been hallucinating about getting the World Cup.”
The angry president recently attended talks about forming a grand coalition with five other party chairmen, including Gerindra Party head Prabowo. The alliance is a fusion of two coalitions – the Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition (KIR) consisting of Gerindra, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB), which comprises the once-dominant Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN), and the United Development Party (PPP).
The meeting took place without two other supporting government parties, Nasdem, which has formed a coalition with several opposition parties to nominate former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan as a presidential candidate, as well as PDIP, which has enough seats in the House of Representatives to go solo in the 2024 presidential race. With Ganjar having lost influence, Anies now occupies a formidable position, one that worries both domestic and international businessmen because of his Islamist sympathies.
Jokowi said his presence at the meeting was as a "listener" and not to interfere in forming a coalition, a statement quickly shot down by PAN chairman Zulkifli Hasan, who said the grand coalition discourse came from Jokowi. "Of course, all of this is under the command of Mr. Jokowi," said Zulkifli. Other PAN officials said Jokowi was the "coach" of these parties but did not dictate the steps of each party. Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto said the basis for forming a grand coalition was because they had the same goal, to continue the presidential policies Jokowi has formulated over the last decade.
Sources in coalition circles said that the idea of forming the grand alliance was to support candidates who would be endorsed by Jokowi to fight against the alliance supporting Anies. Jokowi's interest is clear. He is believed to possibly intend to use the grand alliance to increase his bargaining power with his party and to demonstrate that he has plenty of other support aside from PDI-P.
The refusal that led to Indonesia's loss of rights to host the U-20 World Cup was made by PDI-P leaders allegedly to uphold the constitution and save Jokowi from impeachment ---an excuse that seems far-fetched. Indonesia, in solidarity with Palestine, has no diplomatic relations with Israel. The PDI-P policy was set by Sukarno, Megawati's father, who during his tenure often blocked Israel's involvement in sporting events. Two governors whose areas were the venue for the event, Bali Governor Gede Pasek and Ganjar, refused Israel's participation, allegedly because of instructions from their party, PDI-P. Apart from PDI-P, several conservative Muslim organizations also rejected the holding of the event.
However, Jokowi believes that political issues must be separated from sports so that U20 football could still be held in Indonesia, with or without Israel. Various disturbances in the country eventually led to the cancellation of Indonesia as the host country amid administrative sanctions from FIFA.
PDIP's refusal to allow the organization of the U20 world cup event has turned out to be politically unfavorable. Apart from sparking conflict with Jokowi, the party has also received a lot of criticism from the public. The Polster Indicator conducted a phone survey on March 22-27 that discovered almost 60 percent of respondents still wanted the games to continue, even with Israel participating.
It has cost Ganjar badly. A survey by the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI) released on Sunday has found that he is no longer the most popular candidate compared to Prabowo and Anies. He is in second place with 26.9 percent, far compared to Prabowo who is now in first place with 30.3 percent. Meanwhile, Anies' popularity is close behind at 25.3 percent.
Prabowo benefits most from the formation of a grand coalition. He possesses the highest electability of all the figures in the coalition. Many see that if a grand coalition really materializes, it is likely that Prabowo will be nominated as a presidential candidate if the PDI-P does not join and offer other candidates. The alliance has attracted more support from splinter parties such as PSI, PBB and Perindo. The PBB and Perindo chairmen have met Prabowo, and the PDIP will soon follow.
Jokowi and Prabowo often appear together on working visits to various regions. Many of these gestures are interpreted as Jokowi's covert support for Prabowo, who is now reincarnated as "Jokowi's man" rather than as a political opponent as when they fought two elections in 2014 and 2019. Now that Jokowi's relationship with PDI-P and Ganjar is heating up, Prabowo is the figure who benefits the most. Still based on a survey by LSI, Prabowo's electability rate grew by 3.6 percentage points from 26.7 percent in February to 30.3 percent in March, while Ganjar's nosedived from 35 to 26.9 percent.
PDI-P has not yet decided whether to join the grand coalition, still holding out for endorsement of its so-far unnamed candidate although it meets the presidential threshold criteria. Pressure has been increasing lately for the party to nominate Ganjar, who has a high electability rate in various surveys despite his recent nosedive. The dilemma has always haunted the PDI-P because Megawati wants her daughter, Puan Maharani, as a candidate, despite her dismal electability. PDI-P said it may join the grand alliance as long as they are willing to endorse its presidential candidate. Prabowo may be angling toward mollifying Megawati by making her daughter vice presidential candidate. Prabowo was said to be meeting with Puan Maharani this week.
Even though the power of the grand coalition looks impressive, observers say it would be powerless without a candidate with really strong electability. The strength of electoral figures, especially those with a loyal mass base, has a more considerable influence on voters than the support of political parties.