News analysis

Democrats emerge as kingmakers in Round 2 of Jakarta election

Supporters of former army major Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who gracefully conceded the Jakarta elections on Wednesday night, are now the hottest political commodities in the capital.

With the three-way fight for Jakarta governor now down to two after none of the three candidates won a majority vote at the exit polls, this group of voters who backed the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono could play kingmaker.

The wheeling and dealing for votes for Round 2 of the Jakarta polls has already started.

Mr Agus' campaign team manager Nachrowi Ramli from the Democratic Party said rival parties which endorsed former education minister and Islamic scholar Anies Baswedan have approached him to join forces for Round 2.

There is a belief that Muslims who voted for Mr Agus will naturally turn to Mr Anies. Those who hold this view say incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is not just Chinese, but also a Christian, who has been accused of insulting Islam.

Mr Agus, flanked by his wife Annisa Pohan (left) and running mate Sylviana Murni, conceded defeat in the Jakarta election on Wednesday night. The voters who backed him will now be courted by the campaign teams of the remaining candidates, Basuki and
Mr Agus, flanked by his wife Annisa Pohan (left) and running mate Sylviana Murni, conceded defeat in the Jakarta election on Wednesday night. The voters who backed him will now be courted by the campaign teams of the remaining candidates, Basuki and Mr Anies. ST PHOTO: FRANCIS CHAN

However, observers say it will not be just a simple matter of the Muslim votes heading towards the Gerindra ticket helmed by Mr Anies. There is also the question of whether rival political factions behind the three candidates, as well as whether Dr Yudhoyono and Gerindra party chief Prabowo Subianto - who are not known to see eye to eye - can come to a compromise.

Jakarta is probably more pluralistic and religiously diverse than most places in Indonesia. But like the rest of the country, it is predominantly Muslim with only 15 per cent of its population of 10 million following other faiths.

Muslims do form a large pool of Mr Agus' supporters but the Democratic Party - the ticket he ran for governor on - also has many constituents who voted along party lines, said political science expert Dede Utomo.

The academic from Airlangga University said this group of "liberal" voters would prefer Basuki, instead of Mr Anies, who is endorsed by the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Others say Mr Agus' support base has many Muslim voters from mainstream Islamic groups such as the Nahdlatul Ulama.

These voters may prefer a non-Muslim candidate with a good track record over someone endorsed by the PKS.


This is because the PKS is known as an ultra-conservative Muslim party, with little tolerance for Indonesia's pluralism and advocates that Islam plays a wider role in the Indonesian government and society at large.

To observers, Mr Agus did play the Muslim card during the campaign. He courted Islamic political parties such as the National Awakening (PKB) and United Development (PPP) parties, and even the radical Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI).

The FPI was the hardline group which led a series of massive street rallies against Basuki, who is now standing trial for blasphemy.

Quick counts and exit polls from Wednesday's election show that Mr Agus and his running mate Sylviana Murni garnered less than 20 per cent, while the remaining 80 per cent or so of the votes were split between Basuki, who is better known as Ahok, and Mr Anies. Basuki had a slight edge in the number of votes.

Analysts say these results, while unofficial, show that Jakarta is in for another tight race in the second round of elections pitting Basuki and his deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat, against the Gerindra pair of Mr Anies and businessman Sandiaga Uno.

Centre for Strategic and International Studies researcher Arya Fernandes believes Muslim supporters of Mr Agus will probably back Mr Anies, because of his ties to the PKS.

But he told The Jakarta Post that the majority of Mr Agus' supporters will ultimately look to Dr Yudhoyono as chairman of the Democrats, before deciding how they would vote.

This may go against Basuki, who is backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P), which Dr Yudhoyono is said to have no affinity for. This is due to his past disputes with PDI-P chairman and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The PDI-P was in the opposition camp during Dr Yudhoyono's two terms as president between 2004 and 2014, during which Ms Megawati was highly critical of his leadership, and she continues to make no secret of her disdain for her successor.

Relations between Dr Yudhoyono and Mr Prabowo of Gerindra have also never been warm. The latter is said to see Mr Agus' candidacy as an affront, which fuelled further tensions between the two former army generals.

This would surely be a factor when Dr Yudhoyono decides whether to back Basuki or Mr Anies, who was picked by Mr Prabowo to run for governor.

Experts say these legacy feuds between the leaders and patrons of the key political parties backing Basuki and Mr Anies mean there will once again be a highly-charged election campaign in April, which they say remains too early to call.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Democrats emerge as kingmakers in Round 2 of Jakarta election'. Print Edition | Subscribe