Anies Baswedan with Muhaimin Iskandar and their wives, at Anies' declaration of their joint campaign ticket, 2 September 2023 (Photo: Anies Rasyid Baswedan / Twitter)

Indonesia’s Volatile Coalition Politics: PKB’s Move Broke the 2024 Presidential Race Logjam


The focus is now on choices for Indonesia’s next vice president after Anies Baswedan secured a surprise choice for his running mate in 2024.

For the past few months, Indonesia’s race for the 2024 presidency had been stuck in a logjam, with the emergence of three presidential contenders making a run-off (i.e., two round) presidential election more likely. If no candidate wins an outright majority of the national vote on 14 February, Indonesians may have to vote on 26 June 2024 to select their next president. Now, the power struggle is shifting towards the question of vice-presidential candidates.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) is now playing a more significant role by moving to Anies Baswedan’s coalition. PKB, which has supported Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto’s candidacy since August 2022, abruptly left his coalition last week when former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan’s camp offered PKB Chairman Muhaimin Iskandar (Cak Imin), a place as Anies’ running mate. The offer was hard to resist, as Cak Imin and PKB had sought in vain this position under Prabowo from the beginning.

This manoeuvre was facilitated by tycoon Surya Paloh, founder and chairman of the National Democratic Party (NasDem).

However, Anies has outraged the Democrat Party (DP) by favouring Cak Imin. Previously, Anies had assured the Democrats that his VP choice would be their chairman and son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (AHY). Now the Democrats have withdrawn their support for Anies’ coalition and AHY has tried to brush off the slight, telling his party to “move on quickly”. The Democrats’ departure is not likely to impact Anies’ candidacy, as his coalition still maintains control over 38.56 per cent of the House of Representatives (DPR) seats and can officially nominate him and Cak Imin handily.

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), another part of Anies Baswedan’s coalition, has also greeted PKB’s entry with a frosty reception. PKS discontentedly asserted that PKB’s inclusion was unilaterally imposed by Surya Paloh. Whether this dissatisfaction might lead PKS to jump ship remains to be seen. Even so, PKS’ choices are limited. PKS has opposed President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) government; allying with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) might now be more viable for some of the PKS’ base unhappy with PKB’s latest move.

Where does the DP stand after leaving Anies’ coalition? Joining the coalition that supports Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo seems like the most sensible choice. While the longstanding animosity of Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairwoman and matriarch of PDI-P, towards SBY, founder and patriarch of DP is well known, ideologically, their two parties are not significantly different and could in fact secure a solid hold over nationalist voters while drawing some military votes away from Prabowo, given both Yudhoyonos’ backgrounds. Although aligning with PDI-P would mean AHY giving up his aspiration to be vice president, PDI-P/Ganjar can still reward the Democrats with important portfolios in a future Ganjar cabinet.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ option to join Prabowo’s “Onward Indonesia Coalition” (Koalisi Indonesia Maju, KIM) may not be as appealing. KIM is filled with Golkar, Gerindra, and PAN, which hold 36 per cent of the DPR seats. DP would clearly lack any leverage to secure significant concessions within this coalition and AHY may not even score a significant cabinet portfolio.

The Democrats’ leverage would be even more limited if Prabowo chooses Jokowi’s older son, Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming, as his running mate. (This cannot happen unless the law is changed to allow someone younger than 40 years of age to run for the post.) While Jokowi has not openly stated so, he reportedly instructed his supporters and allies to back Prabowo.

Jokowi’s support for Prabowo stems from his rift with Megawati Sukarnoputri and PDI-P. In a sense, Jokowi, who won his elections on a PDI-P ticket (2005 and 2010 Surakarta mayoral races; 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial and 2014 and 2019 presidential races) but who is now popular in his own right, is asserting his independence. He no longer wishes to be labelled as a “party apparatchik”. He feels empowered to exert control over the parties in his coalition and to engage in behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to influence the 2024 race.

By all indications, Jokowi is disappointed with the apparent agreement between Ganjar and Megawati to grant PDI-P some control over Ganjar’s future presidency, potentially shutting out the Widodo clan from continued national influence.

Jokowi’s confidence has grown because he enjoys a remarkably high personal approval rating at above 80 per cent, according to the latest Indikator Politik poll. With this strong political capital, he believes he can be kingmaker. However, translating his high approval ratings to securing the 2024 race for an anointed successor is not a sure prospect. One thing is certain: Jokowi will not be on the ballot in 2024.

No matter how Prabowo and Ganjar react to Anies’ latest move on the 2024 chessboard, PKB’s acquiescence for Cak Imin to run with Anies has reshaped the race’s dynamics.

PKB’s decision to align with Anies highlights Jokowi’s waning influence in maintaining the unity of Prabowo’s coalition. It was reported that Golkar and PAN joined the coalition with Jokowi’s “blessings”. Jokowi’s efforts to channel support towards Prabowo can be interpreted as an attempt to marginalise PDI-P, which holds 25.6 per cent of DPR seats. With PKB’s exit, Golkar’s sway within the Prabowo coalition is stronger. This may foreshadow Golkar’s greater independence from Jokowi.

As noted earlier, there are structural issues within Anies’ coalition, particularly between PKB and PKS. The former, long aligned with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), represents traditional or indigenous Islamic forces, while PKS represents more hardline, conservative and modernist forces in Indonesian Islam. Historically, these two forces had co-existed within the Masjumi Party in the 1950s but diverged and even became antagonistic. While it is possible for these erstwhile enemies to collaborate at the elite level, it would be hard to imagine this cooperation at the grassroots. What is more, there is a known deep-seated dislike within NU for Anies Baswedan.

Yet PKB, driven by its interests, appears unconcerned about these structural problems. If Anies’ coalition can somehow advance to the second round of the presidential election, PKB would then aim to unite NU supporters behind Anies and Cak Imin. If not, PKB would still possess bargaining power, especially vis-à-vis PDI-P, which highly values NU supporters’ votes.

The biggest beneficiary is NU: while PKB might represent or align with NU, not all NU members belong to PKB. For the vice-presidential race, it is now possible that all three choices for Anies’, Prabowo’s and Ganjar’s running mates might have NU ties. However, NU’s chairman recently tried to distance his organisation from politics.

No matter how Prabowo and Ganjar react to Anies’ latest move on the 2024 chessboard, PKB’s acquiescence for Cak Imin to run with Anies has reshaped the race’s dynamics. This author believes that PKB has weakened President Jokowi’s position as a kingmaker.  


Made Supriatma is a Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. Made’s research focus is on Indonesian politics, civil-military relations, and ethnic/identity politics and he is also a freelance journalist.