Political moves heat up as Indonesian parties hunt for presidential, vice-presidential candidates

Indonesia President Joko Widodo (right) speaks to Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto (left) and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo during a rice harvest in Central Java on March 9. PHOTO: PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARIAT’S PRESS BUREAU

JAKARTA – Political manoeuvres among Indonesian political parties are intensifying as they hunt for suitable presidential and vice-presidential candidates to run in the 2024 election.

An encounter between Gerindra party chief Prabowo Subianto, 71, and Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, 54, during a rice harvest on March 9 in Kebumen, Central Java, has sparked speculation about the possibility of the two figures running together in the upcoming election. President Joko Widodo also attended the event.

Both Mr Prabowo, who lost the past two presidential elections to Mr Widodo and is now defence minister, and Mr Ganjar, a cadre of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), have topped major polls.

A survey by pollster Charta Politika in November 2022 showed that if paired, they would beat former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and Mr Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the eldest son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr Widodo cannot run for a third term after hitting the two-term limit.

Gerindra advisory board deputy chairman Hashim Djojohadikusumo later said that the chances are “wide open” for Mr Ganjar to join the ticket, but suggested that he fill the vice-president slot, and said Mr Prabowo should be the presidential candidate due to his seniority and experience. 

“Prabowo must become a presidential candidate; that’s non-negotiable,” said Mr Hashim, Mr Prabowo’s younger brother, adding that 99 per cent of his brother’s programmes are in line with Mr Widodo’s.

Should they pair up, Mr Prabowo and Mr Ganjar would likely make the election a two-horse race, facing off against Dr Anies and his running mate.

Dr Anies, 53, has won support from ruling coalition member NasDem, the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party and the Democratic Party, which together formed Coalition for Change, to run as a presidential candidate.

While the potential Prabowo-Ganjar pairing seems promising, it will become a “tough and complicated” deal to achieve, said Professor Firman Noor, a senior researcher at the Political Research Centre of the National Research and Innovation Agency.

Among the key obstacles is the Gerindra condition that Mr Prabowo run as a presidential candidate. 

“If Ganjar is willing (to become the running mate), that may happen. But he may feel that as he tops Prabowo in some surveys, his bargaining position is at least equal,” Prof Firman told The Straits Times.

Mr Ganjar has other options if he wants to run as a presidential candidate.

He could, for instance, seek support from the United Indonesia Coalition, Prof Firman said. The coalition comprises Indonesia’s oldest party Golkar, the National Mandate Party and the United Development Party. 

The results of a survey of 1,220 respondents by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting released last week revealed that Mr Ganjar remains the front runner for the 2024 presidential election, ahead of Mr Prabowo and Dr Anies.

Gerindra faces another obstacle: the National Awakening Party (PKB), with which it formed an alliance – the Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition – in August 2022. PKB chief Mr Muhaimin Iskandar is vying to be a vice-presidential nominee.

Gerindra may risk losing votes if its relationship with PKB goes sour, according to Prof Firman. PKB is often regarded as the unofficial political arm of Indonesia’s largest Islamic mass organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama. 

Gerindra and PKB together hold 23 per cent of the parliamentary seats, surpassing the 20 per cent threshold needed to field a pair of presidential and vice-presidential candidates. 

The PDI-P, which secured 22 per cent of parliamentary seats in 2019, is the only party that can nominate candidates without having to ally with other parties. Both Mr Widodo and Mr Ganjar are members of PDI-P.

For Mr Ganjar, the main obstacle to being named PDI-P’s presidential candidate is his own party, said Padjadjaran University political communication expert Kunto Adi Wibowo. “If Ganjar wants the nomination, PDI-P should be the one to nominate him. He doesn’t want to quit his own party. But will Megawati (Soekarnoputri) give the ticket to Ganjar while she is grooming Puan (Maharani)?,” he said.

Ms Megawati is PDI-P’s chief, while Ms Puan, her daughter, is the House of Representatives Speaker and ranks low in electability rating polls.

Prof Firman noted that both PDI-P and Gerindra may finally have to strike a “tough deal” if they cannot come up with their nominees amid the constant rise in popularity of Dr Anies, given the solidity of his support. 

“If they are forced by pressing circumstances, they will make a deal and resort to the most popular candidates,” he said.  

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