Presidential Election Maneuvering Begins in Indonesia
Political parties jockey to build coalitions amid rumors of third Jokowi term
With more than a year and a half to go before February 2024 general elections, Indonesia’s political parties are jockeying to form coalitions to nominate presidential candidates to replace Joko Widodo, who has held office since 2014 and who is the subject of speculation that his popularity could make him a candidate for a third term.
Indonesians, however, are generally wary of extending the president’s term despite his considerable popularity out of unappetizing remembrance of the New Order government headed by the late strongman Suharto, who ruled for 34 years amid deepening corruption and stagnation. Jokowi has told his ministers they should focus on work instead of speculating on extending the presidential term. He recently announced that elections would be held on February 14, 2024.
Former general and defence minister Prabowo Subianto, who has run three times unsuccessfully, is trying again, reportedly with his Gerindra Party in a coalition with the Islamist National Awakening Party. Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan have been widely mentioned as potential candidates. In the Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) survey, for example, 22.5 percent picked Ganjar, followed by Prabowo at 17.5 percent, with Anies with 13.2 percent.
The NasDem Party, the nation's fourth largest, has officially announced that it will nominate either Ganjar, Anies or the military commander Gen. Andika Perkasa. But despite his prominent position as head of government in the nation’s biggest megalopolis, Anies isn’t a member of any party and his victory in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election 2017 is remembered as a result of the support of Islamic hardliner groups who exploited religious and racial sentiments to block the former governor, an ethnic Chinese Christian, on trumped-up charges of blaspheming the Quran.
Although surveys depict Ganjar as the strongest candidate, he is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which may have another candidate in the wings – Puan Maharani, the daughter of party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri, arguably the most powerful kingmaker in the country. Puan Maharani was only chosen by 1.8 percent of the respondents.
Rumors have surfaced recently that Jokowi is supporting Ganjar, angering the PDI-P top brass. Jokowi appeared to signal his support in front of Ganjar and his volunteer group, Pro Jokowi or Projo, whose chairman at the end of last month claimed 85 percent of Jokowi's supporters support Ganjar. Thus, the possible conflict between Jokowi and Megawati could affect the solidity of the party as a whole.
PDIP legislators in the House of Representative have strongly criticized Jokowi and Ganjar for allegedly overstepping Megawati‘s authority although she has yet to officially announce her choice. Jokowi and Megawati (pictured above) recently appeared together in public to attempt to quash the controversy, with Jokowi saying the two are like mother and son, although "there is a difference between mother and child. That's only natural."
Megawati is the supreme PDI-P leader, determining party policies including appointing candidates for regional head and president. She has led the party since 1993 and was Indonesia’s president from 2001 to 2004, replacing the ousted Abdurrahman Wahid. She twice ran for president in 2004 and 2009 but lost. She then chose Jokowi, a politician from outside the country's dynastic elites, to run in 2014 and 2019 against Prabowo. PDI-P has solidified its position as the country as the dominant party with nearly 20 percent of members in the House of Representatives.
Even though Jokowi is popular and has a strong support base, he is not the chairman of any political party, which would give him the privilege of determining which candidate the party would support. Megawati and PDIP have backed him from the time he ran for regional head in his hometown of Surakarta in 2005 until his rise to the top of presidential power.
The party has also supported Jokowi's son Gibran and his son-in-law Bobby Nasution to become mayors in Surakarta and Medan respectively. Because of this situation, Jokowi may not be free in determining which presidential candidate he will support.
Arya Fernandes, who heads the Department of Politics and Social Change at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said the relationship between Jokowi, Megawati and PDIP is mutually beneficial. Jokowi needs the support of the PDIP to smooth out government policies such as dealing with the pandemic and construction of the new capital city in Kalimantan, which he considers his signal goal. Conversely the party needs Jokowi to pull in 2024 voters. CSIS research indicates the Jokowi effect played a major role in drawing PDIP votes in the past two general elections.
PDIP leaders are upset by speculation on extending the Jokowi’s reign to three terms, which is being echoed by palace circles, party leaders and his rank-and-file supporters. Although he is a PDIP member, the party does not support extending his potential term and wants the elections held as scheduled.
The idea of extending the term and postponing elections has been around since 2019 but it has picked up recent steam from cabinet ministers and heads of parties supporting the government. In early June, a support group named the Volunteer Front of President Jokowi (Bara JP) produced t-shirts promoting the three-term concept and planned to distribute them to the public ahead of the president's visit to Ende, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), but the plan failed.
The Projo support group is still pushing the idea. Regulations have not yet been decided by the General Election Commission (KPU), meaning that at least technically the idea is still alive. KPU member Idham Kholik said the government had just disbursed Rp2.4 trillion of a total Rp8.06 trillion for the 2024 general election budget. The finance ministry is reportedly unable to disburse all the funds because it is waiting for election stage regulations to be finalized.
Jok-Pro, another Jokowi advocacy group, says it actually wants the presidential extension. Ahmad Qodari, an adviser to Jok-pro, says Jokowi has never reprimanded the volunteers holding events supporting the three-term discourse. "The (volunteers) should have been reprimanded if it was not allowed at all," said Qodari.
Students, however, have demonstrated in opposition. The Executive Director of Indonesian Political Indicators Burhanuddin Muhtadi said arguments that the election should be postponed due to the pandemic, economic recovery, and the construction of the new capital city are baseless. Economic growth is improving, reaching 3.7 percent throughout 2021.
Various credible surveys show little public support for postponing the election and allowing Jokowi to continue in office. The Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) survey released in early March 2022 showed that the majority of people rejected the proposal or extending Jokowi’s term until 2027 for any reason. Around 68-71 percent of respondents turned down the idea, either because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic slowdown or the construction of the new capital city.