Muhaimin Iskandar standing with Anies Baswedan on a balcony at the Hotel Majapahit, 2 Sep 2023 after they announced their joint 2024 campaign.

Muhaimin Iskandar standing with Anies Baswedan on a balcony at the Hotel Majapahit, 2 Sep 2023 after they announced their joint 2024 campaign. (Photo by Muhaimin Iskandar / Twitter)

Muhaimin Iskandar’s Vice-Presidential Candidacy and Nahdlatul Ulama


As his running mate, Muhaimin Iskandar could bring something to the table for Anies Baswedan’s 2024 campaign and the former would not be down and out even if their team does not beat the other two presidential contenders next February.

The declaration of former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Muhaimin Iskandar as running mates happened in a historic place where the Indonesian flag was raised in September 1945: Hotel Majapahit in East Java. The pair chose a joint acronym, AMIN (short for “Anies and Muhaimin”), a clever choice that would resonate with Indonesia’s multitude of Muslim voters. So, why did the National Democrats (NasDem) led by Surya Paloh and PKB agree to work together?

Surya Paloh, NasDem’s leader, was the kingmaker here. Paloh understood that Anies needs Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) followers, estimated to be some 67 per cent of Indonesia’s population, as potential voters. Anies is weak in the two big provinces that are key to any electoral victory, namely East Java and Central Java, both of which are NU strongholds. As one recent commentary indicated, NU is closely linked to PKB, although not all NU members support PKB.

Many assume that Team AMIN will find it difficult to win in 2024. Based on many leading surveys, Anies’ electability as president remains low compared to the other contenders, Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo. Importantly, the poll numbers for Muhaimin as vice president are similarly poor. Muhaimin’s electability is lower than that of Minister of State-owned Enterprises Erick Thohir, Minister of Tourism Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno, and former Governor of West Java Ridwan Kamil, but the situation might still change. It depends on how Team AMIN works to increase its electability among NU’s voters.

The window of opportunity for Muhaimin to contribute to boosting Anies’s electability is not closed. First, this can happen if Muhaimin is the only vice presidential candidate from NU to stand for election next year. Although the official statement from NU Chairman Yahya Cholil Staquf was that PBNU (Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama, NU’s headquarters) would never have a representative for both the presidency and vice presidency, NU’s members may want to have an NU presence in a situation where there is no other contender clearly linked to NU. The possible nomination of a running mate with an NU background by either Ganjar or Prabowo might provide an alternative for nahdliyyin (followers of NU) voters that will naturally reduce Muhaimin’s influence. However, Muhaimin can still consolidate his ties with intermediaries, that is, the legislative candidates at the district and provincial levels in NU’s stronghold provinces.

Team AMIN’s newly created image suggesting unity between traditionalist and modernist Islamic groups can also attract voters from both sides.

The second factor is whether Muhaimin can convince the legislative candidates at district and provincial levels to choose not only PKB but also him. A recent Kompas research survey showed that PKB ranked as Indonesia’s third largest political party, after the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which supports Ganjar, and Prabowo’s Gerindra. Those who vote for PKB may not automatically vote for Muhaimin as vice president. It can happen, however, if PKB runs its preparations for the 2024 general elections (GE) well and if PKB selects winning district and provincial level candidates who back Muhaimin, because on 14 February 2024, Indonesians will simultaneously vote for their president and national legislators.

A third factor lies with Muhaimin’s ability to persuade non-structural NU kyais (these are ulama or kyais not officially serving as board members at the central, provincial and district levels) in East Java and Central Java to choose him as their vice president to represent NU’s interests at the national level. This group comprises mostly leaders of big pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) and are patrons of NU followers, who are likely to follow the kyais’ lead, including on how to vote in the presidential election and GE next year. Such non-structural NU kyais are still mindful of the late Abdurrahman Wahid’s (Gus Dur, PKB founder and fourth president of Indonesia) legacy. PKB is under the full support of prominent East Java kyais as part of NU, but their support for Muhaimin as an individual is uncertain due to the longstanding perception that he hijacked PKB from Gus Dur. If Muhaimin can convince them that he will continue in the footsteps of Gus Dur to develop PKB while representing NU’s interests, there is a chance that they will vote for him.

Team AMIN’s newly created image suggesting unity between traditionalist and modernist Islamic groups can also attract voters from both sides. This is the first time in the history of Indonesian political Islam since NU’s withdrawal from Masjumi in 1952 and NU from the then sole Islamic Party, the United Development Party (PPP) in 1973, that traditionalists and modernist Muslims have joined hands as partners in politics. Indonesian Islam has a dichotomy between traditionalists associated with NU who believe in the tradition and culture of Islam, and modernists associated with Masjumi and Muhammadiyah, who believe in the reform and formalisation of Islam in politics.  In the last four GEs, traditionalists and modernists had separate political affiliations. Those from both groups who still can imagine the importance of kesatuan umat Islam (the unity of the ummah, or Muslim community) can think of Team Anies-Muhaimin as a true alternative.

Even if Muhaimin fails to help Anies win in the first round of the presidential election, Muhaimin/PKB can still join with others in a run-off, given PKB’s connection with NU and strong presence in the key heartland of Java. Whoever becomes the next president will need PKB’s support in the cabinet and national parliament. More important than the modernist-traditionalist combination, Team AMIN might offer something different from the other two presidential candidates in terms of their vision and programmes. Their platform, which could still change, is perubahan untuk persatuan (“change for the unity of Indonesia”). Team AMIN declare that they want to embrace change in all aspects of Indonesian life but without creating disintegration and polarisation. As the campaigning for 2024 heats up, time will tell if they can keep this resolve.


Syafiq Hasyim is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, and Lecturer and Director of Library and Culture at the Indonesian International Islamic University.