Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan taking a selfie at the opening of the newly built Jakarta Public Library on 9 July 2022. (Photo: Anies Baswedan / Facebook)

Anies Baswedan: Potential Kingmaker in Indonesia’s 2024 Presidential Race?

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The race for Indonesia’s 2024 presidential elections remains wide open. Among the top three contenders, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan is the one with the most options. If he does not make a run for the nation’s top job himself, he is well-placed to become a kingmaker.

If the most recent Indonesian presidential electability polls are anything to go by, the race to succeed President Jokowi in the 2024 elections remains wide open. A recent poll by Indopol published on 15 July 2022 showed Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo emerging as the top ranked candidate for president, garnering 17.9 per cent of respondents’ support. This was followed closely by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan (16.4 per cent) and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, whose support level saw a surprisingly sharp decline to 8.9 per cent. But the results of this poll appear to have been swiftly contradicted by another poll by the National Survey Institute (LSN) which on the same day released the results of its poll which showed that Prabowo remained solidly in the lead with an electability rate of 29.5 per cent, followed by Ganjar at 20.9 per cent and Anies in third place at 18.5 per cent. An earlier poll by Polmatrix Indonesia conducted in mid-June showed Anies coming up tops with an electability rate of 20.8 per cent, followed by Prabowo at 19.3 per cent and Ganjar at 18.8 per cent. 

But while the order of rankings among the three men remains in constant flux, the underlying trend that Ganjar, Prabowo and Anies consistently take the top three spots generally remains intact. The polls also show the gap between the third-placed candidate and the fourth-placed candidate (typically West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil or Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) tends to be relatively wide. Ridwan and Agus typically poll within the 5-6 per cent range, while the level of support for the top three men tends to be in the double-digit range. 

The polling trends suggest that if Prabowo, Ganjar and Anies were to contest the presidency in a three-way race, there would likely be no clear winner in the first round of the presidential election and there would have to be a second-round run-off between the top two teams. According to Indonesia’s electoral rules, the winning presidential ticket must win by a simple majority. 

The current polling trends also reflect what must be a fairly obvious but not often articulated reality — that if Anies were to agree to be running-mate to Ganjar or Prabowo, it would be “game over” for the opposing team. Anies joining forces with any of the two other candidates would provide that candidate with a virtually unassailable lead. Anies could, effectively, be the kingmaker. This was demonstrated in a February 2022 simulation by Indikator which showed that a Ganjar-Anies pairing would decisively defeat a Prabowo-Erick Thohir pairing (44.1 per cent versus 39.7 per cent). Similarly, a Prabowo-Anies pairing would trump a Ganjar-Erick Thohir pairing (47.7 per cent versus 36.8 per cent). Thohir is the Minister of State-owned Enterprises.

This state of affairs presents Anies with very interesting strategic options. He could take his chances and make a run for the presidency in 2024 and risk being knocked out of the race after the first round. Or he could bide his time and decide to whom he would like to hand the presidency. The concessions he could extract from either candidate in exchange for an almost guaranteed victory at the 2024 presidential polls must clearly be substantial. 

It is more likely to be Anies, rather than Ganjar or Prabowo, who will face such a dilemma. Anies finds himself at a slight disadvantage compared to the other two men because he does not belong to any political party. According to Indonesia’s election rules, a presidential candidate must be backed by a political party or a coalition of parties representing at least 25 per cent of the popular votes, or 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In contrast, Ganjar, based on his strong electability rankings, is more likely than not to be fielded as PDIP’s presidential candidate. Prabowo, as Gerindra’s chairman, is likely to run on Gerindra’s ticket, barring a serious deterioration of his popular support levels. 

… a Ganjar-Anies partnership could well be in Indonesia’s best interests. It is a potential dream team with the ability to unite the country. They would also represent a leadership team that is youthful, energetic and forward-looking.

From Anies’ perspective, it would probably make more sense to partner with Prabowo. There is a greater likelihood that Prabowo, given his age (he is 71 this year) would not seek a second term as president and could provide Anies with a clearer path to run for the presidency in 2028. 

It would probably be more difficult for Anies to play second-fiddle to Ganjar. Ideologically, they come from different streams — Ganjar is more closely affiliated with PDIP’s nationalist political base, and Anies tends to tap more naturally into the conservative Islamist constituency. The two men are also obvious political rivals. Both are around the same age (Ganjar was born in 1968 and Anies in 1969), have proven themselves as respected and competent regional leaders, and have relatively long political runways. 

However, of all of the potential presidential pairings, a Ganjar-Anies partnership could well be in Indonesia’s best interests. It is a potential dream team with the ability to unite the country. They would also represent a leadership team that is youthful, energetic and forward-looking. If they join hands and pull together their competencies and influential networks, they could well create a juggernaut that would help Indonesia realise more fully its economic and strategic potential. 

Of course, it is still very early days in the presidential race and perhaps too soon for Anies to give up his bid for the presidency. Indonesia is not scheduled to hold the presidential polls till Februrary 2024. Even so, it may be worthwhile for Ganjar and Prabowo to be mindful that whoever manages to woo Anies to their side probably has the presidency in the bag. Anies, it would seem, is the man to watch. 

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Lee Sue-Ann is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute where she directs the Media, Technology and Society Programme. She is also co-coordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme and an editor of Fulcrum.