By: Ainur Rohmah

Indonesia’s Aug. 10 registration for candidates for the 2019 presidential sweepstakes has been thrown into chaos with an accusation that leading candidate Prabowo Subianto had taken a bribe to pick a successful businessman as his running mate who would pay to mollify two of the former general’s coalition parties, who have their own vice presidential candidates.

The charge has thrown Prabowo’s nascent campaign into confusion and is expected to provide considerable help to the campaign of President Joko Widodo, who is expected to return to lead a nine-party coalition headed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Prabowo, Jokowi’s challenger in the 2014 race, heads the Gerindra Party, which until the current crisis blew out was expected to lead a four-party coalition including the Democrats. Neither candidate has officially announced a running mate.

At the moment Jokowi is strongly favored in polls to retain the presidency, although some analysts believe his support, while wide, might not be deep, and could founder on religious issues. There has long been a whispering campaign that the president is either not a Muslim or isn’t a very good one.  When he ran for the Jakarta governorship in 2012, he picked an ethnic Chinese Christian as his running mate.

Threat to blow up coalition

Andi Arief, the deputy secretary general of the Democratic Party, threatened to end the coalition between the Democratic Party, headed by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Gerindra over a report that Sandiaga, the current deputy governor of Jakarta and one of the country’s richest men, had paid Rp500 billion (US$34.6 million) for the chance to be Prabowo’s second in command.

Sandiaga is believed to have poured billions of rupiah to finance his candidacy as Jakarta’s deputy leader to Anies Baswedan in the Jakarta gubernatorial race in 2017. The Democrat Party and Yudhoyono are pushing for the former President’s son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, to be named Prabowo’s running mate, although Agus, known as AHY, is opposed by other parties in Prabowo’s coalition.

Andi tweeted that Prabowo was a “Cardboard General,” saying the Democrats were refusing an offer by Prabowo to explain himself at Yudhoyono’s Kuningan district home. “Even the desire to explain through the letter was no longer necessary. Prabowo appreciated money more than the struggle. Cardboard General,” Andi wrote.

Rp500 billion

Local media quoted Andi as saying Prabowo would choose Sandiaga because of Sandiaga’s willingness to pay the Rp500 billion to “entertain” two other coalition parties, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), both Islamic parties – to pay them to back off on their own candidacies.

“The Cardboard General had poor quality, yesterday afternoon (Prabowo) met the Democratic chairman (SBY) with a sweet promise of struggle. It hasn’t been 24 hours, he mentally collapsed (because) he had been hit by Sandiaga’s money to entertain PAN and PKS,” Andi tweeted.

Gerindra Secretary General Ahmad Muzani denied that Sandiaga bought the vice presidential candidacy, although he acknowledged that Sandiaga was one of two names considered as a VP candidate besides Agus. Muzani denied that Andi’s statement official. “This is from Andi, not SBY,” he said.

The vice presidential slot is of overriding importance because of the money and influence it can bring to the presidential candidate, especially with Prabowo still suffering from the fortune he spent vainly in the 2014 race. SBY, as Yudhoyono is known, wields considerable power himself although Sandiaga is considerably richer.  In addition, many in Jakarta privately view Agus as a less-than-attractive candidate.

Name to be official Friday

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said Jokowi’s vice presidential candidate is likely to be released on Aug. 9. One of the strongest, replacing Jusuf Kalla, is said to be Mohammad Mahfud, known popularly as

Mahfud MD, the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court and a highly respected academic.

Prabowo’s  Dilemma

Each of the parties in Prabowo’s coalition have been insisting on offering their own members as vice presidential candidates.  SBY has long been pushing AHY while PAN and PKS have insisted on their own party elite figures. In addition a group of Islamic scholars and joint Islamic organizations calling themselves the National Movement for Fatwa Guards (GNPF) have recommended a cleric, Abdul Somad.

The GNPF played a major role in the victory of Anies Baswedan, the Muslim governor candidate promoted by Gerindra in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2017. They organized Muslims to elect Islamic religious leaders, holding a series of noisy demonstrations aimed at Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, the ethnic Chinese and Christian governor of Jakarta. They pushed for a court trial for Ahok on charges of blaspheming Islam that were widely viewed as spurious. Nonetheless, Ahok was finally sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Adi Prayitno, lecturer at Faculty of Social and Politic at the Islamic University of Jakarta, said Prabowo faces a difficult situation because he needs crucial vice presidential support to strengthen his candidacy in the face of the conflicting interests of his supporting parties.

“Since Prabowo decided to form a coalition with the Democrat Party, the two other supporting parties seemed to keep their distance from Prabowo and their political attitudes unclear,” said Prayitno, who is also Executive Director of Indonesian Political Parameters. “This seems to have been unexpected by Prabowo.”

Prayitno said he suspected that Prabowo and SBY deliberately did not directly announce AHY as a vice presidential candidate after their meeting last month in an effort to keep PAN and PKS in the coalition. SBY said only that the determination of the vice presidential candidate is in Prabowo’ s hands despite his ambition to propose AHY.

Prabowo needs the Democratic Party because SBY’S clout as former president. “SBY still has a solid political network,” Prayitno said. Second, he said, Prabowo needs greater logistical and financial support. The former Special Forces general’s financial capacity was severely crippled by the fortune he spent in the 2014 race, said to have been the most expensive in Indonesian history. Nasir Djamel, a political operative, speculated in April that Prabowo might not contest the 2019 race because of his lack  of funds.

Thus unless the volatile situation blows apart because of Andi’s charges, it looks like Sandiaga has the funds to overcome SBY’s offer of electability and capital.  Nonetheless, as Prayitno said, PKS has a very militant and compact constituency base much needed by Prabowo.

“The problem is, they (PKS) are very insistent that their cadre is chosen as candidates for vice president,” Prayitno said. Prayitno said the Prabowo coalition needs to sit together, eliminating all sectoral egoism, to form a winning strategy. Moreover, a coalition should be built on platform similarities with the main aim of defeating incumbents, but it is precisely what is seen by the egoism of each party so that their interests are accommodated.

“This explains that their coalition is currently very complicated. They should think about how to win, but they are now busy thinking who should go forward,” Prayitno said. Because of these problems, he said, it looks like Prabowo may once again go down to defeat.