No coalition with Prabowo, says SBY

Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (in blue) and opposition leader Prabowo Subianto on Thursday agreed to cooperate but said no coalition had been formed between their parties.
Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (in blue) and opposition leader Prabowo Subianto on Thursday agreed to cooperate but said no coalition had been formed between their parties.PHOTO: PARTAI DEMOKRAT

But both will file judicial challenge against election Bill

Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and opposition leader Prabowo Subianto met on Thursday night, over nasi goreng, to discuss an election Bill passed by Parliament and their plan for a judicial review against it.

But speculation leading up to the meeting, initiated by Mr Prabowo, was that the two former army generals could be discussing if their parties should join forces for the 2019 presidential election.

However, Dr Yudhoyono put paid to any such rumours when he addressed reporters outside his home in Cikeas, West Java, where the talks were held. The Democratic Party patron said he and Mr Prabowo, who is chairman of Gerindra Party, have agreed to cooperate but no coalition has been formed between their parties.

"We have chosen not to form a so-called coalition, the important thing is to improve our communication and cooperation," Dr Yudhoyono, better known by his initials SBY, told reporters.

Neither Mr Prabowo nor Dr Yudhoyono elaborated on how the two parties will work together, with the former president eager to redirect reporters to issues he had with the election Bill passed last week.

The Bill preserves the requirement that parties will need to have at least 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament, or a minimum 25 per cent share of the popular vote, before they can nominate a presidential candidate.

The Democrats and Gerindra had wanted the threshold scrapped because they believe it narrows the field for the 2019 race and may give the incumbent, President Joko Widodo, an unfair advantage.

Mr Joko, who had no prior ties to the old political or military elite, became President in 2014 under the same system and the status quo would favour his run for office again, political observers have said.

The National Mandate Party, which is from the government coalition, Gerindra, the Dems and the Prosperous Justice Party, had staged a walkout to boycott the vote on the Bill last week.

In a veiled criticism of the ruling coalition that forced through the Bill, Dr Yudhoyono said he hopes the government will exercise its powers "carefully" and according to the Constitution.

He added that his party and Gerindra will file a judicial review to challenge the validity of the Election Bill with the Constitutional Court, an act that will be seen as a direct move against Mr Joko.

Mr Prabowo said he shared Dr Yudhoyono's views on the Bill, calling the move to preserve the presidential threshold "political trickery". He told reporters: "The presidential threshold is a political joke that fools Indonesians. I don't wish to be part of it."

With the higher thresholds, the presidential contest in 2019 will be a tighter two- or three-way fight, with Mr Joko likely going up against Mr Prabowo, the presumptive nominee of Gerindra. The question is who will be their running mates.

There was talk before Thursday's meeting that a coalition between the Dems and Gerindra may see Mr Prabowo taking on Dr Yudhoyono's son Agus Harimurti, as his No. 2.

But deputy chairman of the Democratic Party advisory board, Mr Agus Hermanto, said that although a coalition between the two parties was possible, the Dems "will definitely nominate our own presidential candidate. We're cultivating our next leader, with young Dems members pushing for Agus Harimurti, but we'll see". He was talking to The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2017, with the headline 'No coalition with Prabowo, says SBY'. Print Edition | Subscribe