Indonesia’s largest political party has finally ended the speculation on whom it will back for 2024’s presidential race. Game on.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) finally nominated Ganjar Pranowo, governor of Central Java, as its presidential candidate on 21 April 2023. The announcement was apparently prepared in haste at the Batutulis palace in Bogor, West Java. Megawati Sukarnoputri, PDI-P’s chairwoman, sealed Ganjar’s nomination by placing a peci (hat) on his head and using the honorific “Bung” to refer to him. Megawati was accompanied by President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and two of her children, Puan Maharani – speaker of the Indonesian parliament (DPR) – and Puan’s half-brother Prananda Prabowo. An unusual feature of this event was the presence of President Jokowi; even though he is a PDI-P cadre, he has tried to rise above his party affiliation as president.
PDI-P’s nomination of Ganjar Pranowo has changed the political terrain of the 2024 presidential election (PE) and will affect the existing coalitions. Previously, there were two putative presidential candidates, both of whom share the top three spots with Ganjar in most electability (elektabilitas) polls. Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan is supported by the Coalition of Change for Unity, consisting of NasDem, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and the Democrats (DP). Meanwhile, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto built the Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition (KKIR) with his party Gerindra and the National Awakening Party (PKB). While KKIR has not officially nominated Prabowo, Gerindra declared him as its presidential candidate back in August 2022. The complication is that Gerindra alone lacks the required 20 per cent parliamentary seat-share to formally nominate Prabowo, while PKB Chairman Muhaimin Iskandar has presidential ambitions too.
In early March 2023, Jokowi brought together Prabowo and Ganjar at a rice harvest event in Kebumen, Central Java. This meeting was purportedly aimed at solidifying a “grand coalition” of five parties – Gerindra, PKB, Golkar, the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – brokered by Jokowi. The informal gathering failed to agree on a prospective candidate.
With half a year to go before the official nomination period for the PE campaign pairs, the electability of each potential candidate will experience ups and downs. Prior to Ganjar’s nomination last week, Prabowo’s poll numbers were ticking up and he clearly had some momentum compared to Anies Baswedan, whose numbers are flat and have even slightly decreased compared to last year. Anies’ current focus on engagements abroad instead of meeting prospective voters and holding informal rallies at home might partly explain this performance. While Ganjar experienced a dip in popularity in late March 2023, after he rejected the Israel team’s participation in the U-20 World Cup, this issue might not make a permanent dent in his polling numbers going forward.
There is a possibility that Prabowo’s electability has increased because he projects himself as a viable alternative between Jokowi/Ganjar and Anies Baswedan, whose respective supporters have been bickering since 2017. Anies’ campaign for Jakarta governor pitched him against Jokowi’s ally Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, “Ahok”. Ganjar may have inherited this feud – and ironically, lower electability ratings – because he is considered Jokowi’s successor.
Not only have the party coalitions been shaken by Ganjar’s nomination but the elites are also beginning to manoeuvre.
It seems that Indonesian voters, especially younger ones, are growing tired of these divisions. The latest Indikator (an Indonesian polling firm) survey showed that Jokowi’s approval rating was inversely proportional to Anies’. Ganjar and PDI-P will have to manage this conundrum going forward if their PE campaign is to succeed.
Prabowo is Jokowi’s minister but is not seen as the president’s heir. Prabowo can be said to be the most important man behind Anies in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election. Many Anies supporters became Prabowo supporters for the latter’s failed 2019 presidential bid. But now Prabowo is projecting himself as someone who is free from perennial politicking. He seems confident that political momentum is on his side and has downplayed the possibility that he will settle to be Ganjar’s vice-presidential running-mate.
Not only have the party coalitions been shaken by Ganjar’s nomination but the elites are also beginning to manoeuvre. Several names have been floated as vice presidential candidates. Sandiaga Uno, the minister of tourism and creative economy, has already signalled his ambition by quitting his Gerindra deputy chairman post. It is widely believed he did so to join the PPP, an Islamic party whose heyday was during and immediately after the New Order. Sandiaga, one of the richest people in the country, will be a hot commodity for any of the three potential PE candidates. As a running-mate, Sandiaga’s war chest will boost anyone’s campaign.
Meanwhile, Ganjar Pranowo’s electability will influence how Indonesia’s biggest parties jostle for positions in 2024. President Jokowi is trying to become a kingmaker and may yet facilitate a grand coalition. Given his closeness to two of the three candidates, Jokowi will win if either Prabowo or Ganjar become president.
However, if Jokowi’s idea of a grand coalition fails to materialise in the sense of a clear consensus on a single sure winner, the current three-way race would most likely lead to two rounds of PE voting (because no candidate pair will secure a majority of the national vote). In that scenario, Indonesia’s 2024 PE outcome would be more in the people’s, not the politicians’, hands. While two rounds of voting will add to electoral costs, democracy is worth the price.
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.