It will be a tough fight in next February’s presidential election in Indonesia. There is time for the race odds to shift but the stakes are already clear.
Indonesians are closer to directly electing their next president. Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo’s campaigns alongside their running-mates, Muhaimin Iskandar and Mahfud MD respectively, were registered on 19 October. A week later, Prabowo Subianto finally landed his pick: Gibran Rakabuming Raka, mayor of Surakarta and controversially, the oldest son of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).
There is early reporting that Prabowo’s choice of Gibran is already hurting the pair’s chances. Prabowo’s choice stirred controversy because Gibran is only 36 years old and has less than three years’ experience as a mayor. To qualify to run as president or vice president, the legal requirement was that a candidate had to be at least 40 years old. To lower this age limit, pro-Gibran elements brought lawsuits before the Constitutional Court. The Court, led by Jokowi’s brother-in-law (and Gibran’s uncle) Anwar Usman, then ruled that an individual could qualify as a vice presidential candidate if he is either at least 40 years old or is at least 35 and has public office experience.
The investigation into the Court’s breach of ethics has led to a dishonourable dismissal of Anwar Usman as chief justice, although he gets to stay on the Court. While this development has hurt the Widodo clan’s image and there will be a re-trial on the issue of the age limit, it will not scuttle Gibran’s quest for national office. Any overturning of the age limit (or restoration back to status quo ante) will only apply to the next election, in 2029.
While poll ratings will fluctuate as election campaigning runs (28 November 2023 to 10 February 2024), there will likely be two rounds of voting for the presidential election (PE). The frontrunners, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) Ganjar Pranowo and Prabowo Subianto, hover around the one-third mark in most electability surveys. Unless Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar (Team AMIN) drastically improve their popularity, they are likely to be kicked out after the first round.
This commentary assesses the three pairs of candidates on their experience, profiles, and respective strongholds (Table 1), and highlights their relative weaknesses.
Table 1. The Three Teams, At a Glance
|Presidential Candidates (by ascending age)|
|Anies Baswedan 54, b. Kuningan, West Java||Ganjar Pranowo 55, b. Karanganyar, Central Java||Prabowo Subianto 72, b. Jakarta|
|Current position / Party Affiliation||None||PDI-P||Minister of Defence (Widodo II); Chairman, Gerindra|
|Past positions||Governor, Jakarta (2017-2022) Minister of Education & Culture (Widodo I)||Governor, Central Java (2013-2023)||Chief, Kostrad; Lieutenant-General, TNI Ran in 2014 & 2019 PE; in 2009 as VP candidate|
|Natural constituency/ Stronghold||Islamic conservatives, Muslim intellectuals||Nationalists, Central Java||Nationalists, the military, conservatives|
|Poll ratings*||Distant third||Neck and neck (alternating first and second)|
|Running mate||Muhaimin Iskandar 57, b. Jombang, East Java||Moh. Mahfud MD 66, b. Sampang, Madura, East Java||Gibran Rakabuming Raka 36, b. Surakarta, Central Java|
|Current position / Party affiliation||Chairman, National Awakening Party (PKB) Deputy Speaker, DPR||14th Coordinating Minister, Political, Legal & Security Affairs (Widodo II) Professor of Law, Universitas Islam Indonesia (Yogyakarta) (1984-)||Mayor, Surakarta City (2021-) Former PDI-P cadre|
|Past positions (selected)||Deputy Speaker, MPR (2018-19); Minister of Manpower & Transmigration (Yudhoyono); Deputy Speaker, DPR (2004-09); Member, DPR (1999-)||2nd Chief Justice, Constitutional Court (2008-13) Various ministerial portfolios including defence (Wahid), justice & human rights (Wahid)||Nil|
*Note: Polls usually indicate three to 12 per cent of respondents are “undecided”.
All three teams need to cover significant ground:
The Upstarts: Anies Baswedan with Muhaimin Iskandar (Team AMIN)
Team AMIN successfully mirrors the historic union between modernist-conservative Islamic groups, as represented by Muhammadiyah, and traditionalist-orthodox Islamic voters exemplified by Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This combination coalesced in Indonesia’s 1955 elections within the framework of the Madjelis Sjuro Muslimin Indonesia (Masjumi) party.
Analysing the ideology that Team AMIN represents, one might anticipate a significant level of support for it in West Java, with its substantial voter base, and in Banten, the fifth-largest voting constituency. Additionally, South Sulawesi and regions in Sumatra, such as Aceh and West Sumatra, could be fertile ground for their brand and message.
The frontrunners, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) Ganjar Pranowo and Prabowo Subianto, hover around the one-third mark in most electability surveys. Unless Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar (Team AMIN) drastically improve their popularity, they are likely to be kicked out after the first round.
However, recent surveys do not align with these expectations. Anies and Muhaimin are in a close race with Prabowo-Gibran in West Java, Banten, and elsewhere. The key factor for Team AMIN would lie in whether the National Awakening Party (PKB) can secure the majority of the NU masses’ votes. A recent survey by Indikator Politik showed that NU can significantly affect the election in East Java, the second-largest constituency in voter numbers.
A challenge that Team AMIN faces pertains to minority and secularist voters. The lingering “Ahok effect” (that is, the anti-Christian/anti-Chinese message Anies Baswedan was seen to have endorsed during his 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial bid against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok) may lead such voters to fear that Anies’ presidential campaign might exploit ethnic or religious differences. Despite minority voters constituting just 12 per cent of the electorate, their votes can swing constituencies where Muslim voters are evenly divided between conservative Islam (outside Java) and traditionalist Javanese Islam.
Team AMIN is regarded as an opposition force. The duo have pledged to scrutinise some contentious laws, including promising to amend the revised Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law and the Job Creation Law. However, they have not confronted Jokowi or his loyalists head on. On Jokowi’s pet development — the new capital city Nusantara —Team AMIN has committed to re-evaluating it, as opposed to rejecting it outright, but has not placed it among its top priorities in its campaign platform.
A safe pair of hands: Ganjar Pranowo with Mahfud MD (Team GP-MMD)
Choosing Mahfud MD as his running mate has injected fresh momentum into Ganjar’s campaign. This partnership appears poised to emulate PDI-P/Jokowi’s successful strategies from 2014 and 2019. Their focus will lie in securing substantial support from Central and East Java, with a competitive presence in West Java and Banten. If they can get about a third of the votes in West Java and Banten while triumphing in Central and East Java, it could pave the way for victory. One hope lies in Mahfud’s potential to attract traditional Islamic voters. While he is primarily associated with NU, he lacks a strong base within the organisation.
Ganjar, former governor of Central Java, faces the challenge of matching Jokowi’s high vote-share in 2019. In his gubernatorial re-election campaign in 2018, Ganjar won with only 58.8 per cent of the vote, whereas in 2019 PE candidate Jokowi carried Central Java with an impressive 77.3 per cent. Gibran as Prabowo’s running mate is further expected to siphon off some Ganjar votes there. In East Java, Jokowi won in 2019 with 65.8 per cent of the vote, which would be hard to replicate.
Ganjar-Mahfud must also secure victories in East Kalimantan, North Sumatra, and North Sulawesi and regions with Christian majorities in eastern Indonesia. In many respects, this platform closely aligns with candidate Jokowi’s, as it was crafted by the same party, the PDI-P. The key will be whether Ganjar can sufficiently distinguish his platform from Widodo’s previous ones.
Prabowo-Gibran: Popular but Too Old and Too Young?
Even before selecting Gibran, Prabowo had positioned himself as Jokowi’s successor for months prior. As heir apparent and defence minister, Prabowo has successfully established a direct connection with Jokowi. Prabowo’s chances might be boosted by the “Jokowi effect”. This team’s strategy likely combines elements from Jokowi and Prabowo’s past presidential campaigns.
The alliance even sparked early optimism that Prabowo-Gibran might win in a single round. However, given Anwar Usman’s punishment and the uncertainty this brings, Prabowo is probably aware that he cannot simply replicate the electoral strategy that led to his losses (or Jokowi’s wins) in 2014 and 2019. Instead, he invokes Jokowi’s name to remind voters of his allegiance to the president. Prabowo is likely hoping that voters in constituencies that he had previously won will still support him in 2024.
Prabowo would directly compete in Central and East Java against Ganjar. Additionally, Prabowo would aim to remain competitive in West Java and Banten, where Anies Baswedan is expected to be strong. The Prabowo-Gibran platform does not differ significantly from the planned and actual policies that Jokowi has implemented. There is one glaring omission from their campaign platform, however: human rights.
Future commentaries by others will no doubt analyse the merits of the three teams’ campaign platforms, in terms of specific policy promises. From what we already can see, 2024 looks set to be a riveting fight for Indonesia’s democracy.
Julia Lau is a Senior Fellow and Co-Coordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme, and Editor, Fulcrum at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.
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.