Media tycoon to helm Jokowi's campaign team

Although Mr Erick Thohir is tapped primarily for his corporate management skills and ability to engage younger voters, his ownership of Republika, a newspaper popular among conservative Muslims, could also be a plus point for President Joko Widodo.
Although Mr Erick Thohir is tapped primarily for his corporate management skills and ability to engage younger voters, his ownership of Republika, a newspaper popular among conservative Muslims, could also be a plus point for President Joko Widodo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Owner of newspaper, TV station and sports teams also led organisation of Asian Games

President Joko Widodo yesterday appointed Indonesian media and sports tycoon Erick Thohir as campaign team leader in his re-election bid after the latter successfully led the organising committee of the recent Asian Games.

Mr Joko also said Vice-President Jusuf Kalla will chair the board of directors for the presidential election campaign.

While Mr Erick, 48, is tapped primarily for his corporate management skills and ability to engage younger voters, his ownership of Republika, a newspaper popular among conservative Muslims, could also be a plus point for Mr Joko.

Mr Erick, who is president commissioner of Mahaka Media, also owns television station JakTV, radio station GenFM, as well as Italian football giant Inter Milan, US Major Soccer League club DC United and the Philadelphia 76ers from the US National Basketball Association.

In his announcement, Mr Joko highlighted Mr Erick's proven leadership, pointing out his success in every organisation he leads.

"This is not a political matter. This is a management matter on how to arrange this campaign so that it runs well," he said.

The tycoon's capability was put to the test recently when he headed the organising committee for the Asian Games in Indonesia. Despite a budget cut for the two-week event, Mr Erick managed to secure sponsorship from big corporations, including Samsung and Qatar Airways.

His appointment as campaign team leader came just days after Mr Joko's rival, Mr Prabowo Subianto, announced former defence force chief Djoko Santoso as his campaign lead.

Mr Arsul Sani, deputy chairman of the President's campaign team, told The Straits Times that political parties had no objections to Mr Erick because he has good leadership and managerial capability. He is also familiar with economic issues, noted Mr Arsul, who is United Development Party secretary-general.

Economic issues will be among the key highlights of the campaign by Mr Joko, 57, and his running mate, renowned cleric Ma'ruf Amin, 75.

Since Mr Joko took office in late 2014, Indonesia's economy has managed to expand only around 5 per cent on the back of a global commodity slump that hurt export and weak domestic consumption. This is less than the 7 per cent he had vowed to achieve during his presidential campaign.

The rupiah has lost more than 9 per cent of its value against the greenback so far this year, making it the second-worst performer in Asia. Trading at nearly 15,000 to the US dollar, the rupiah has plunged to a 20-year low since the Asian financial crisis.

Though Mr Joko is widely acknowledged to have massively built infrastructure across the sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, his inability to keep his economic campaign promise, among others, may become an easy target of criticism by Mr Prabowo and his running mate, former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno.

Mr Prabowo, 66, is the son of notable economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, while Mr Sandiaga, 49, is a prominent figure in business circles.

Political analyst Arya Fernandes from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said Mr Erick's appointment will ensure financial backing for the Joko-Ma'ruf team.

But Mr Erick will also need aides with solid political experience in order to communicate well with political parties, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'Media tycoon to helm Jokowi's campaign team'. Print Edition | Subscribe