Jakarta Gubernatorial Race a Dead Heat?

Officials are forecasting a record turnout tomorrow for the Jakarta governor’s race between the incumbent Fauzi Bowo and his challenger, Joko Widodo, the popular mayor of the central Java city of Solo.

Opinion polls conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) and Tempo, as well as by MNC Media and Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting had Jokowi, as he is known, ahead by only 1-3 percent, which would be statistically too small to measure.

Independent analysts, however, say the margin can be expected to be wider.

The race has been described as a contest between surrogates, with heavy spending on each side as political forces realign for the 2014 presidential election to succeed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who cannot run again.

The Center for Political Studies at the University of Indonesia surveyed 600 respondents between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2 and found that an astonishing 93.7 percent said they would vote in the runoff. While that figure is probably fanciful, turnout is still expected to be very strong, given the electoral spending and the interest in the race.

Both campaigns have mounted intensified get-out-the-vote campaigns and political spending has hit record levels, officials said.

Yudhoyono Democrats have combined with Golkar, headed by the reportedly ailing party leader Aburizal Bakrie to back Fauzi, while Gerindra, the Great Indonesia party headed by presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, has combined with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P headed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri to line up behind Jokowi, as Joko Widodo is known.

Jokowi outpointed Fauzi decisively in the July primary race, with 43 percent of the vote against Fauzi’s 34 percent and the other four candidates splitting the remaining 23 percent.

Jokowi’s win was widely regarded as a major organizational and financial victory for Prabowo, the former son-in-law of the late strongman Suharto, whose rehabilitation continues from 1998 charges of terrorism and turning his special forces unit loose to riot and rape Chinese during riots in Jakarta. More than 1,000 Chinese were reported killed and 160 women were raped.

Each of the country’s potential presidential candidates or principal parties is backing a gubernatorial contender in a bid to demonstrate organizational and money-raising clout. Although earlier odds had given the race to Jokowi given his strong primary finish, which was built on his own record as Solo mayor and because of his backers’ organizational skills, Fauzi has raised record amounts of money and spent it to tighten the race considerably.

Jokowi was named Indonesia’s best mayor in 2011 and is regarded as a reformer, having run a relatively clean and efficient government in Solo, a city of 520,000 people. Fauzi has been under continued fire for years because of his inability to solve Jakarta’s unruly traffic, sewage and other problems.

Fauzi has been accused by the Indonesian Budget Center, an NGO, of laundering US$5.8 million through welfare grants from the city government to finance his campaign by passing the funds to institutions or community groups with apparent political links to the incumbent.

The city administration, however, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the welfare grants, saying it can easily justify the marked increase in grants this year, with spending on a series of “large-scale activities” including sending a contingent of athletes to the National Games and an increase in school operational aid for public and private elementary and junior high schools.

Fauzi’s Democratic Party, which Yudhoyono heads, has been badly damaged by a long series of scandals, the biggest over the multimillion dollar construction of an athletes village for last year’s Southeast Asian Games. Party officials all the way up to party leader Anas Urbaningrum and possibly SBY himself have been implicated. The Corruption Eradication Commission is methodically picking its way through the mess and indicting and convicting officials as it goes.

The major loser in the primary was Aburizal Bakrie, who backed Alex Noerdin, who got only 4.4 percent of the vote and finished fifth of the six candidates. Noerdin was hampered by an announcement that he was being investigated by the Corruption Eradication Commission on charges of financial misdealings in a previous office. Golkar, however, has now swung in with the Democrats to back Fauzi.

The next step, after the gubernatorial elections, is the realignment of parties in preparation for the 2014 race. Prabowo’s Gerindra Party appears unlikely to gather the 20 percent of the votes necessary to win nomination as the presidential candidate.

This was a problem that SBY faced when he was first elected. Because his Democratic Party at that point only had a fraction of the vote, he aligned with Golkar, then the biggest political party in the country, headed by Jusuf Kalla, who became SBY’s vice president.

The question is whether anyone wants to align with Gerindra and Prabowo. Although he is reported to have matured and mended his ways from the time he allowed his troops to run wild in the riots, he is not trusted by the Jakarta elites, who have belatedly come to the conclusion that they need to find a way to stop him. Some observers say it could be too late, especially if his organizational skills and financing bring Jokowi home as a strong winner.

The question is what party he could align with. The old guard of the PDI-P, despite the fact that he was Megawati’s vice presidential candidate in the most recent presidential race, doesn’t want to make common cause with Gerindra again, especially since the party would like to see Megawati run for the presidency again.

Golkar at this point is still backing Aburizal Bakrie despite the fact that at least one brokerage in Jakarta released research saying his flagship company, is headed for bankruptcy, which the Bakrie empire denied. Other rumors say Bakrie himself suffered a recent stroke although the company denied that as well.

In any case, once the gubernatorial race is concluded, the country’s tangled political parties have two years to figure out the rebuilt political landscape, whichever way tomorrow’s race goes. Political loyalty is in short supply. Party leaders switch allegiances readily. A lot can happen between now and 2014 and probably will.