Former Indonesian vice-presidential pick Sandiaga Uno wants to be 'critical, credible and constructive' opposition

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The Straits Times speaks to former Indonesian vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno about his political journey and plans for the future.
Mr Sandiaga Uno told The Straits Times in an interview on July 12 that he is still weighing his next moves, but plans to continue a career in politics. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - After having fought and lost in one of the most divisive presidential elections in Indonesia's history, former vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno says he wants to become a "critical, credible and constructive" opposition to the government of President Joko Widodo.

Mr Sandiaga, the running mate of retired army general Prabowo Subianto in the April 17 presidential election, told The Straits Times in an interview on Friday (July 12) that he is still weighing his next moves, but plans to continue a career in politics.

"I want to be the voice of the people, I want to be close to the people, almost half the country wants to see a different leadership and... a big change," he said ahead of his plenary session at the Symposium on the future of Indonesian Politics: Analysing the Outcomes and Implications of the 2019 Elections, at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

What is clear, he said, is that he would not head back to his old job as Jakarta deputy governor, a position he held for only 10 months before stepping down last year to team up with the three-star general.

He would also not return to business. Before entering politics in 2015, when he joined Mr Prabowo's Gerindra party, Mr Sandiaga had worked as an investment manager and then went on to co-found Saratoga Capital, one of the country's largest private equity firms.

"My whole life has been a one-way ticket," he said with a laugh.

"I left the professional world to (embark on) an entrepreneurial journey, I never thought of going back to becoming a professional. Now I've made my way into politics, I don't look back to my business."

He has yet to decide whether to rejoin Gerindra, having resigned from the party after he was named as Mr Prabowo's vice-presidential pick.

But he would continue to work with the 67-year-old to "become constructive partners to the government from the outside" and provide a check and balance on policies.

With the new administration expected to be installed in October, jockeying for positions among political parties has already begun behind closed doors.

While Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, has not revealed the Cabinet structure, he has indicated that he will appoint young professionals and politicians to fill key positions in the next five years.

Mr Sandiaga, who turned 50 last month, is seen as a modern, moderate Muslim professional and has been among those touted for Cabinet positions.

Asked if he would consider taking up a Cabinet post if offered, he said: "Jokowi has plenty of available candidates, these are great people."

The right approach is to wait until October, he said.

"Right now, looking at where things stand, you need to have credible partners outside the government to ensure we would walk into the corridor of change," he added.

He was also quick to damp down speculation about the next presidential race, saying it was "too early" to talk about the 2024 election.

On the economy, Mr Sandiaga said policies should not cater only to big businesses, but also to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises which he believes will continue to be the backbone of country's economy.

He urged the government to put in place labour reforms to attract investments, adding: "We have laws that almost make it impossible for companies to hire and fire."

Mr Joko should look into reforming household economy, he said.

"People focus on issues that matter to their daily life, such as jobs, income, cost of living, prices of food... we need to make the next political leaders and the government address these pressing needs," he said.

Mr Joko has not extended any invitation to join his administration, he said, adding: "I have not met Mr Jokowi since the last (televised presidential) debate, I definitely look forward to meeting him, if invited, but I heard now discussions are ongoing between Mr Prabowo and Mr Jokowi."

During Friday's presentation followed by a question-and-answer session where he tackled a range of topics from identity politics during campaigning to economic reforms, Mr Sandiaga appeared relaxed, cracking jokes to a packed conference room.

"Not being able to win the election, I still get the invitations (to speak)," he said.

On what the election cost him, he quipped: "Seven hundred billion rupiah (S$67.5 million) poorer - election in Indonesia is very expensive."

When he accidentally knocked on the microphone, he deadpanned: "For somebody unemployed, I should be chill. I'm very unemployed and very emotional."

The General Election Commission (KPU) on May 21 declared Mr Joko and his running mate, Muslim cleric Ma'ruf Amin, the winners of the poll with 55.5 per cent of the votes against 44.5 per cent for Mr Prabowo and Mr Sandiaga.

Mr Prabowo's camp had filed a legal challenge against the official tally, alleging "massive, structured and systematic" fraud. But the Constitutional Court on June 27 struck down the allegations, from vote-buying to duplicated names on electoral rolls, paving Mr Joko's path to a second term.

"If we had won, I would be more than satisfied but despite all the challenges, we put up a very, very credible and competitive effort," said Mr Sandiaga. While he was "very disappointed", he accepted the court ruling, which was legal and binding.

"We are very happy we got our day in court and we've got TV coverage that we've been longing to get. It's the education part of our democracy," he said.

He was "deeply saddened and horrified" by the violence that ensued in Jakarta after the KPU announced the results, leaving nine people dead and hundreds injured.

He urged the police to conduct a full investigation.

For now, he wants to take garden leave after months of intense campaigning across the archipelago.

However, he also wants to focus on an entrepreneurship programme and a facility to help millennials find a job.

"It's a hub for young people to gain access to employment, training and scholarship. I'm treating it as a start-up. A lot of people want to get involved, want to put in seed money," he said enthusiastically.

"Who knows? I could create a unicorn out of this political idea."

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