The show of support for presidential contender Anies Baswedan has again underscored the enduring dynamic in Indonesian politics: competition without opposition.
On 11 July 2022, the Republika newspaper reported Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) Chairman Arsjad Rasjid as stating that KADIN “hoped that, after the (2024) election, the losing presidential pair would be invited into government by the president-elect.”
The idea that, after an electoral competition between presidential candidates, the winner should invite the losing candidates into the government makes sense only if there are no fundamental differences between the candidates. Certainly, while the 2014 and 2019 presidential contests between Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto gave the impression that they reflected political polarisation, their subsequent rapprochement revealed there were no real differences.
This competition without opposition was manifested again in the recent statement of support by the National Democratic (NasDem) party for Anies Baswedan, the former Governor of Jakarta.
On 3 October, NasDem announced it was supporting Anies as its preferred presidential candidate in 2024. (The formal nomination process for presidential candidates will not take place until late 2023. A candidate must be nominated by a party, or coalition of parties, with at least 20 per cent of seats in the Indonesian Parliament.) NasDem itself does not have enough seats in Parliament to nominate Anies, so will need other parties to join in. At the moment only the Islamist Justice Welfare Party (PKS) says it supports Anies. NasDem is testing the waters.
There are three important aspects connected to the idea that the system should operate without any opposition. First, NasDem spokespersons affirmed their candidate would continue the policies of President Widodo. Second, NasDem chairperson and media mogul Surya Paloh stressed Anies’s personal qualities and not any policy or strategic issues.
At the moment, there is no prospective 2024 candidate with a high enough poll rating that can unite the nine-party coalition that Widodo has … The question now becomes how a candidate increases his or her poll standing while avoiding the creation of an oppositional dynamic.
It is, however, the third aspect which confirms the strength of the “no-opposition” dynamic. A member of NasDem’s leadership council, Zulfan Lindan, commented that Anies’s leadership would be the antithesis of Widodo’s leadership. The party immediately suspended Lindan and made him a non-active leader. NasDem did not agree with counterposing Anies’s leadership to that of President Widodo. NasDem is a member of the Widodo government coalition and was an ultra-enthusiastic supporter of Widodo in 2014 and 2019 with the slogan: “Jokowi is my President, NasDem is my party.”
Anies almost immediately launched his own campaign to raise his profile. The contradiction of contestation without a differing perspective immediately surfaced again. On the one hand, Anies stated that in 2024 Indonesia would be at a crossroads: “We can just continue as is like this, or change”, he said. The change, however, would not be in terms of policy or strategic direction. “Vision perspectives can be just made up,” he said. The real issue to Anies was the candidates’ work record, not their strategic policy perspectives. Whether Anies’s own definitive policy emphasis emerges later, will have to be seen.
At the moment, there is no prospective 2024 candidate with a high enough poll rating that can unite the nine-party coalition that Widodo has. There are several candidates who have been profiling themselves: Anies, Gerindra leader Prabowo, the Indonesia Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) Puan Maharani and Golkar’s Airlangga Hartato. The question now becomes how a candidate increases his or her poll standing while avoiding the creation of an oppositional dynamic. Prabowo did the opposite in the 2018-2019 elections by flirting with the Islamic conservatives, which probably lost him the election. Anies has already made it clear he will not go down that path. But will somebody else? Or will there be some other way candidates will seek to differentiate themselves, without presenting policy alternatives?
Or will there be a break away from this approach? TEMPO magazine, a voice of a segment of Indonesia’s educated middle class, has been a sharp critic of President Widodo but also of Puan Maharani and Megawati. TEMPO now seems to be giving Anies sympathetic coverage. Democrat Party (DP) spokesperson and media figure, Rocky Gerung, has also supported Anies, although DP may insist on their chairperson, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono being Anies’s vice presidential running-mate. Gerung has also called on Anies to not continue what he called “Widodo style” politics. He did not elaborate.
A differentiation may yet emerge based on the intellectual profiles of a former university rector, Anies, to a more Widodo-like, PDI-P-supported and Javanese career politician such as Ganjar Pranowo or Puan. Even Prabowo, in part, would fit the latter category. Such a differentiation might develop into actual debates over future policies, as has started in a small way in media commentary over the differences between Anies’s policies when he was Jakarta governor on the non-removal of squatters in Jakarta and the interim governor appointed by Widodo, Heru Budi Hartono.
This is still a very early stage of the electoral game for 2024 and we can expect several months more of all the prospective candidates and their parties trying a variety of campaign tactics — such as focusing on personalities and garnering support via patron-client networks — to increase their polling numbers, which will determine whether they can attract a sufficiently broad coalition to support them.
Max Lane is Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He is the author of “An Introduction to the Politics of the Indonesian Union Movement” (ISEAS 2019) and the editor of “Continuity and Change after Indonesia’s Reforms: Contributions to an Ongoing Assessment” (ISEAS 2019). His newest book is “Indonesia Out of Exile: How Pramoedya’s Buru Quartet Killed a Dictatorship”, (Penguin Random House, 2022).