Ganjar Pranowo

Ganjar Pranowo (center) continues to outshine Puan Maharani in numerous credible polls. (Photo: Ganjar Pranowo, Facebook)

PDI-P’s Presidential Nominee Race Will Shape Future Alliances

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The current internal struggle within the PDI-P to determine the party's 2024 presidential nominee will have a significant bearing on how broader political alliances will shape up thereafter.

Indonesia’s leading party in the ruling coalition, PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) is currently torn between two warring factions. Puan Maharani, the scion of the ruling party’s founder Megawati Sukarnoputri, and granddaughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno, leads the first faction. Some party insiders contend that only those with Sukarno’s bloodline should become the PDI-P leader. The second faction is led by Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, Puan’s biggest rival, due to his popularity, political savviness and strong communication skills. His rise in the national political scene is reminiscent of President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) in the 2014 election.

Only the party matriarch Megawati can unite the party, though she would be torn between choosing her daughter—her personal preference—or Ganjar. Ganjar’s handicap, however, is his status within the party as a political outsider. Of course, whether the two factions eventually nominate a new candidate at all depends on whether Jokowi decides to, and is allowed to, run for a third term. Currently, the Indonesian Constitution limits the presidency to two five-year terms, but speculation is rife that constitutional amendments could soon be made to lift this limitation.

The pragmatic Megawati will likely decide on the best candidate to extend PDI-P’s winning streak in the presidential and legislative elections since 2014. In 2014, she made way for Jokowi as a presidential candidate instead of naming herself, knowing that she could not win. Still, she continues to wield significant influence in the country, and some argue, over the president. In May, Jokowi appointed Megawati to lead the BRIN’s (National Research and Innovation Agency) Supervisory Board.

Who Megawati eventually picks to become PDI-P’s presidential candidate will determine how other parties align in 2024. Because only PDI-P passes the required threshold of 20 per cent of parliamentary seats to nominate a presidential candidate on its own, other parties must wait for PDI-P to name its candidate before deciding how best to position themselves for the presidential race.

The latest poll shows that Puan is still struggling with low electability despite running a massive campaign to increase her popularity. Billboards and banners were installed throughout Indonesia, promoting her name and photos alongside Megawati’s and Sukarno’s. One option is for Megawati to pair Puan as a running-mate to Prabowo Subianto, though this would not guarantee success. Prabowo still leads in several polls, but after two consecutive defeats, his image is dented. A PDI-P-Gerindra coalition is also unpopular among the PDI-P grassroots because it means the party playing second fiddle to Gerindra. On the other hand, Ganjar continues to outshine Puan in numerous credible polls. If this trend continues until the end of 2022, Megawati would probably have no option but to pick Ganjar.

Because only PDI-P passes the required threshold of 20 per cent of parliamentary seats to nominate a presidential candidate on its own, other parties must wait for PDI-P to name its candidate before deciding how best to position themselves for the presidential race.

How will other parties align if PDI-P endorses Ganjar for President? If Megawati decides to proceed with Ganjar’s candidacy, the election will likely see a three-horse race. PDI-P’s main challenger will come from the Prabowo axis, driven by Gerindra. Despite having a relatively smaller chance of winning, Prabowo is keen to run again for the third time in a row. From the party’s perspective, Gerindra would need to ride on the coattails of Prabowo’s presidential candidacy to secure seats in the legislative assembly. If he declines to run, Gerindra risks a reduction in votes. As it is, Gerindra does not have enough seats to nominate Prabowo. It needs the support of at least one other party to be able to nominate him.

Another dark horse in the 2024 election is Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan who’s electability rating is within the top three. With a 15.5 per cent electability rate in August 2021, a NasDem-PKS-PAN coalition may nominate him as its presidential candidate. Anies has amicable ties with NasDem Chairman Surya Paloh. Anies was after all the original declarator of the Nasional Demokrat mass organisation that was the political embryo of the NasDem party. The prospect of Anies getting an endorsement is high.

According to numerous polls, there is no single leading dominant presidential candidate to win an outright majority in the 2024 race. This means the contest will likely go to a second round. If Anies is successful in heading for the runoff against Ganjar, the former is more likely to attract Prabowo supporters. 

One must also not overlook the role of potential “kingmakers” in determining the outcome of the next presidential election.

Theoretically, Golkar, Democratic Party and PKB (National Awakening Party) have enough seats combined to nominate a presidential candidate. Their only shortcoming: they cannot name a candidate with strong electability at the moment. Golkar is the second largest party in the legislature, but it has struggled internally to put forward a strong candidate. Its Chairman Airlangga, who has paltry name recognition, is seen more as a technocrat than a politician. Similarly, polls indicate that Democrat Party chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and PKB’s chairman Muhaimin Iskandar have low electability. Therefore, it is highly plausible that these parties will instead seek to play the role of kingmaker in a winning coalition. The direction Golkar, Democratic Party and PKB will swing in the deal-making for political alliances and coalitions will be heavily influenced by what the three leading presidential candidates would offer.

One should also not downplay Jokowi’s role as kingmaker, despite all the attention on Megawati’s influential role. If he continues to enjoy his currently high approval rating, he too can have a say in how coalitions align in 2024, and even state his preferred presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

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