Jakarta polls a proxy for bigger Indonesian battle

Governor election pitches camps of Joko-Megawati, Yudhoyono and Prabowo against one another

An election worker checking ballot boxes before they are distributed to voting booths in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb 13, 2017.
An election worker checking ballot boxes before they are distributed to voting booths in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb 13, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Former army general Prabowo Subianto is not known for mincing his words or hiding his presidential ambitions.

That is why many paid attention when he told his Gerindra Party cadres in a rare public appearance earlier this year that winning Jakarta was akin to winning Indonesia.

"If you can help them win in Jakarta, God willing, you will also win Indonesia," was his not-so-subtle order to his party to back the Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno pairing in tomorrow's gubernatorial election.

His remarks seemed to reinforce speculation that he may make another bid for the presidency, which he lost to former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo in 2014.

Observers say extended ties between the Jakarta gubernatorial candidates and leaders of rival political factions have turned the race to determine who will lead the capital into a proxy contest for the 2019 presidential election.



    Number of voters in 101 regions across Indonesia who will be heading to the polls to vote for their governors and other local leaders tomorrow. There are 337 pairs of candidates to choose from. Indonesians registered in places not contested in these polls will get their chance next year.


    Number of eligible voters in Jakarta who will decide who governs the capital for the next five years.


    Number of first-time voters in the Jakarta gubernatorial election, according to the Jakarta General Elections Commission. 


    More than 20,000 police officers and soldiers will be deployed to secure Jakarta on polling day. 


    The month when official results of the simultaneous elections tomorrow are expected to be announced. 


    Percentage of votes, or a majority, that a candidate must garner to be declared the winner of the election. If none of the candidates manages to do so, a second round of polls will be called. This is where the two candidates with the highest number of votes will face off again in April. 

    Indonesians who are overseas on polling day will not be able to vote at embassies or missions, because unlike for the presidential and legislative elections, the General Elections Commission is not required by law to open polling stations abroad for simultaneous elections. But many who work or live in nearby Singapore, or Malaysia, are expected to make the short trip home to cast their votes. 

    Francis Chan


Indeed, when asked during an interview broadcast on TVOne yesterday if he still wants to be president, Mr Prabowo said he will "wait and see in one or two years' time".

"If I have the people's support, and if my health allows it, I will run again," he added.

Another former general, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who won two presidential elections, also surfaced recently. But it was not entirely to support his eldest son Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who is also in the race for governor.

Dr Yudhoyono called a press conference a few weeks ago and accused the government of wiretapping his phone, while denying rumours that he had a hand in the street protests by Muslims against incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is Christian.

Basuki, better known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, is a close ally of President Joko.

Together with running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat, Basuki is running for re-election under the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle party, which is led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Many, including Mr Muradi from Padjadjaran University, said the stakes are even higher in the Jakarta polls now because of the involvement of these party bigwigs.

"They know that whoever takes Jakarta at the polls can possibly win the competition at the next levels, be it the legislative or the presidential elections," he said.

"This Jakarta election is therefore equivalent to a competition between the Jokowi-Megawati camp, Prabowo and SBY."

Mr Muradi, who heads the university's centre for political and security studies, was referring to Mr Joko's popular moniker and the initials of Dr Yudhoyono.

This second edition of Indonesia's simultaneous elections involves 41 million voters and 337 pairs of candidates, who are contesting in seven provinces, 18 cities, and 76 districts across the country.

But the moving of chess pieces by the political elite has eclipsed local campaigns, with all eyes on the polls in the capital tomorrow.

There is also the ongoing blasphemy trial against Basuki, who has been facing increasing opposition from his political opponents and hardline Muslim groups.

But latest snap polls suggest that the Ahok-Djarot ticket has reclaimed the lead from Mr Agus and his running mate Sylviana Murni, who also lost significant ground to the third pair in recent weeks.

Mr Agus' electability fell steadily after the three election debates, and possibly after his father's outburst, said some observers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta polls a proxy for bigger Indonesian battle'. Print Edition | Subscribe