JAKARTA - Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and opposition leader Prabowo Subianto met on Thursday night (July 27) over nasi goreng, or fried rice, purportedly to discuss an election Bill that was passed by Parliament last week.
But speculation leading up to the meeting, initiated by Mr Prabowo, was that the two former army generals may meet to decide if their parties should join forces for the 2019 presidential election.
Dr Yudhoyono, however, put paid to any such rumours when he addressed reporters waiting outside his home in Cikeas, West Java, where the talks were held.
The Democratic Party patron said he and Mr Prabowo, who is chairman of Gerindra Party, have agreed to cooperate but no coalition has been formed between their parties.
"We have chosen not to form a so-called coalition, the important thing is to improve our communication and cooperation," said Dr Yudhoyono, better known by his initials SBY.
Neither Mr Prabowo nor Dr Yudhoyono elaborated on how the two parties will work together, with the former president eager to redirect reporters to issues he had with the election Bill.
The Bill, passed last week, preserves the requirement of parties to need at least 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament, or a minimum 25 per cent share of the popular vote, before they can nominate a presidential candidate.
The Democrats and Gerindra had wanted the threshold scrapped because they believe it narrows the field for the 2019 race and may give the incumbent, President Joko Widodo, an unfair advantage.
In a veiled criticism at the ruling coalition that pushed through the Bill with the existing thresholds, Dr Yudboyono said he hopes the government will exercise its powers "carefully" and according to the Constitution.
He added that his party and Gerindra will file a judicial review of the Election Bill with the Constitutional Court in a move that will be seen as a direct challenge to Mr Joko.
Mr Prabowo said he shared Dr Yudhoyono's views on the Bill, calling the move to preserve the presidential threshold “political trickery”.
"The presidential threshold is a political joke that fools Indonesians," Mr Prabowo told reporters after the meeting. "I don’t wish to be part of it."
With the higher thresholds, the presidential contest in 2019 will likely be a tighter two- or three-way fight, with Mr Joko likely going up against Mr Prabowo, the presumptive nominee of Gerindra. The question is who will be their running-mates.
There was talk before Thursday's meetings that a coalition between the Dems and Gerindra may see Mr Prabowo taking on Dr Yudhoyono's son Agus Harimurti, as his No. 2.
But deputy chairman of the Democratic Party advisory board, Mr Agus Hermanto, said although a coalition between the two parties was possible, the Dems still plans to field its own presidential candidate.
“Dems will definitely nominate our own presidential candidate. We’re now cultivating our next leader, with young Dems members pushing for Agus Harimurti, but we’ll see,” Mr Agus, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.