Indonesia's PDIP Waits for its Leader to Make Up Her Mind
While Mega seeks to perpetuate the dynasty, the business community wrings its hands
Megawati Sukarnoputri, the powerful leader of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is dragging her heels on endorsing Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, the choice of President Joko Widodo, as the party’s 2024 presidential candidate. The reason behind this choice is perhaps because she fears losing control of the party, which has its roots in the party of her father, the nation’s founding President Sukarno.
Moderates and the business community fear her temporizing would open the door to Anies Baswedan, the former Jakarta governor and a staunch Islamist with substantial appeal with the youth vote, to coast to power on right-wing religious votes.
The moderates have been hoping Megawati would anoint Ganjar, who is regarded as the most electable politician, with Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister, as vice presidential candidate. The 75-year-old Megawati, Indonesia’s president from 2001 to 2004, has yet to announce her choice, although several other parties have named their candidates, sparking speculation that she faces a dilemma in determining her candidate. If Megawati refuses to back Ganjar, sources in Jakarta say, the worst-case scenario is that it could split the party with one faction going with Jokowi, as the president is known. Ganjar is said to be meeting with Jokowi next week to discuss the way forward, with the possibility that he could leave the PDIP and run with another party.
The 54-year-old Anies, a former academic and activist, rode to power as Jakarta governor in 2017 as the beneficiary of a successful campaign by Islamists to falsely brand the previous governor, the Chinese Christian Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, a heretic who blasphemed against the Quran, shaking the country’s image as a moderate Muslim nation. In a trial regarded universally as specious, Basuki was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. Since that time, the country’s moderate power structure has regarded Anies, who left office in 2022, with suspicion.
The PDIP’s dilemma centers on Megawati's desire to continue her family's clout with her daughter, the 49-year-old Puan Maharani as candidate, but despite months of massaging Puan’s image, she hardly moves the popularity needle. Ganjar in various surveys is much more popular and electable than Puan and is the current front-runner in the presidential sweepstakes. However, if Ganjar, a PDIP member, is named, Puan's chances of holding the presidency will be closed and political analysts say the influence in the PDIP of the Sukarno clan will also fade.
Although she hasn’t yet publicly announced her choice, Megawati in a speech at the PDIP’s golden jubilee birthday party earlier this week sought to reassert her party authority, telling Jokowi to attend to his presidential duties and that she would do the appointing, although she said she would ensure that her decision would not harm the party. "The business of the (presidential) candidate is the right of the chairperson,” she said. “The point is, it's impossible for me to throw you down a well. We are working to win."
The PDIP's internal condition has heated up due to the competition to win the nomination, with Ganjar ambitious to run – and the moderates and the business community pushing for him – in the midst of vain efforts by Puan and her supporters to increase her electability, which has so far stagnated at 1 percent. Ganjar himself has always been among the top three politicians with the highest electability—at 35.8 percent based on the Indonesian Political Indicator survey—followed by Prabowo and Anies, both of whom were declared candidates by their coalitions some time ago.
As the party with the largest number of votes and which has met the constitutionally mandated presidential threshold of 20 percent to nominate its own candidate, the PDIP announcement is eagerly awaited by other parties. However, the odds are that Megawati and the PDIP will wait until the last minute ahead of the registration deadline in October. Many see this as a strategy to give Puan time to increase her electability and prevent any presidential candidate from political attacks. Many believe she recognizes her liabilities and will withdraw.
The PDIP is the reincarnation of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), which since its 1973 establishment has had a nationalist ideology. It was a combination of several parties including the Indonesian National Party (PNI) founded by Sukarno, Indonesia's first president and Megawati’s father. She took over the party in 1993, molding it into the country’s biggest, leading Jokowi to the presidency twice in a row and making it impossible to separate it from the branding of the figures of Sukarno and Megawati. Two of Megawati's children, Puan and Prananda Prabowo, have long been involved in the party and are expected to maintain the influence of the Sukarno-clan.
However, Jokowi and Ganjar have continued to increase in popularity and succeeded in winning the sympathy of many PDIP members. Ganjar himself is closer to Jokowi than Megawati and other PDIP's party officials. Political observers consider that Jokowi's image has a major influence in obtaining PDIP votes in the election. He also now has a support base in various regions among members of the party. Even in the past few months, there have been aspirations for Jokowi to take over the PDIP although observers consider that a far reach.
Megawati in her Tuesday speech before thousands of cadres and Jokowi himself reminded him that he wouldn’t be in his current position without PDIP. She didn’t even greet Ganjar, who was also present at the event. Instead, she reminded party members to comply with party rules if they don't want to be ousted.
Concerns about the diminishing influence of the Sukarno clan are also suspected to be the background of the party supporting the submission of a review of the open proportional election system to the Constitutional Court and replacing it with a closed proportional election system. With the open proportional system, voters can vote for political parties or the names of candidates who are expected to sit in parliament. In a closed proportional system, voters only vote for political parties, giving the parties the authority to determine who is entitled to sit in parliament.
PDIP grandees consider that an open proportional system would raise the cost of an election. However, Hurriya, the executive director of the Center for Political Studies (Puskapol) at the University of Indonesia, argues that a closed proportional system does not solve the problem because the causes of money politics in elections are structural, related to the autocratic and dynastic party recruitment system and leading to prohibitive political costs for citizens who want to join parties or run for legislative seats.
Survey results state that the public feels closer to candidates than to political parties. The national survey on Indonesian Political Indicators (2021) proved that only 6.8 percent of 1,200 respondents spread across all provinces said they felt close to political parties. The rest, 92.3 percent, said they did not feel close.
Apart from the PDIP, eight other parties in parliament balked at the idea of a closed proportional system and requested that the Constitutional Court maintain the rules for voting for candidates in the 2024 election. "We reject closed proportionality and are committed to maintaining the progress of democracy in Indonesia which has been implemented since the reform era. Closed proportional elections are a setback for our democracy," read one of the points in the statement from eight political parties.
An open proportional system might indeed be unprofitable for the parties, which have so far relied on the votes of the candidates they carry, such as artists and other public figures. If the closed proportional system is implemented again, they are worried that their vote share will decrease.
Kunto Adi Wibowo, a political observer from Padjadjaran University (Unpad), argues that the PDI-P wants a closed proportional system to guarantee the return of full power to the party, not individuals, giving the party chairman full power, including determining who can be in parliament. This was also done by PDIP to minimize friction between its cadres at the grassroots level, as well as to be a way for the party to 'clean' opportunist cadres or those who disobey the orders of party chairman Megawati.