The question of electability has turned Indonesian voters' attention towards potential running mates for the putative presidential candidates in the 2024 race.
When Megawati Sukarnoputri announced that the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) would nominate Ganjar Pranowo as its presidential candidate, the country’s fever of coalition negotiations was given a firmer framework. Immediately the speculation turned to two other interrelated questions. First, who would be Pranowo’s rival or rivals and second, who might be his vice-presidential running mate?
Will Pranowo face one or two rivals next February: Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan running together, or just one of them? Who will be each presidential candidate’s running partner? What is clear is that ideology or policy differences are not key factors for Indonesia’s voters.
The only question is: who has the best “elektabilitas” (electability). That is, who has the best of chance of winning, with victory bringing the booty? How to put oneself or one’s party in the best position for Cabinet and other positions in the new government? It is, of course, very likely that if Pranowo wins the presidency, he will still end up appointing figures from the same seven parties in the current government. Even in a Prabowo or Baswedan government, most of the same parties would be involved.
With no serious programmatic difference, everything is possible. Sandiaga Uno was Prabowo’s vice presidential running mate in 2019, nominated by Gerindra. Then, after the post-election rapprochement between Prabowo and Joko Widodo, Uno became a minister in the 2020 Widodo Cabinet. Uno has now resigned from Gerindra and is in the process of shifting to the United Development Party (PPP) just as the PPP was announcing that it would support Pranowo as its preferred presidential nominee. Uno is a possible vice-presidential candidate alongside Pranowo, but that would be impossible if he were still with Gerindra and Prabowo was standing as Gerindra’s nominee. Uno is from Sumatra where PPP has some of its electoral support.
Chairperson of the Golkar party, Airlangga Hartato, has met PDIP and Demokrat (DP) officials and has made it clear that “Golkar is ready to work with any combination of parties”. Former TNI general and minister in earlier governments, Wiranto, whose People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) does not have any parliamentary seats at the moment, visited PPP and offered them the names of 100 ex-Hanura candidates while having earlier stated he may leave Hanura and join the National Mandate Party (PAN). Wiranto has also met Prabowo, offering him support.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s netizens speculate on the possible combinations of positions that Pranowo, Baswedan, Prabowo and others would have in the next government, whoever is elected. This spirit is very much in line with what the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) spokespersons were hoping for even last year: an atmosphere where everybody knows that whoever wins, most would end up having key positions. This, said the KADIN spokespersons, would take the heat off the elections.
Whether there will be two or three candidates in the 2024 presidential elections will make no difference for Indonesia’s democracy.
While no substantive difference exists among the party leaderships, it may turn out to be less so among the parties’ bases. Indonesian parties’ electoral support is concentrated in specific geo-cultural areas, where different shades of religious identities play a role. If there are two or three candidates for the 2024 presidency, all with similar outlooks on economic strategy, politicians may be tempted to play the identity politics game. In this phase, elektabilitas is not simply calculated around the popularity of the presidential candidate but around the elektabilitas of the combination of president and vice-president. How that combination plays to different geo-cultural constituencies also enters the politicians’ (and voters’) calculations.
One scenario that could sharpen polarisations is if the various parties supporting Prabowo and Anies Baswedan unite, combining Gerindra, the National Awakening Party (PKB), Nasional Demokrat (NasDem), the Justice and Welfare Party (PKS), DP, and possibly also Golkar and PAN. Such a contest between Prabowo-Anies, backed by so many parties, and Ganjar Pranowo would threaten the ascendancy of the PDI-P and Megawati, which may elicit desperate responses from the PDI-P and its base. However, at this early stage, an equally broad coalition including PDI-P and Gerindra as potential partners cannot be ruled out.
The one relatively clear point of policy differentiation initiated by a political party is that reflected in the policy statements of the new Labour Party (PB), whose platform stands in stark contrast to that of all the parties now sitting in parliament. This is symbolised, at least for the moment, by the PB’s statement that it will neither support a presidential candidate nor join a coalition with any party or candidate who supports the Job Creation (Omnibus) Law. While it is campaigning hard in the media to increase its profile and bargaining power, its influence is negligible. Moreover, as the fragmented character of this year’s May Day events indicates, it is clear that Indonesia’s labour sector is also divided, with at least one key Confederation already declaring support for Ganjar Pranowo, even though the PDI-P is a major supporter of the Omnibus Law.
Whether there will be two or three candidates in the 2024 presidential elections will make no difference for Indonesia’s democracy. All the potential candidates represent the same basic outlook. The question is whether this situation represents the actual consciousness in Indonesian society or whether alternative perspectives do exist but have not yet found a way into the electoral competition.
Max Lane is Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He is the author of “An Introduction to the Politics of the Indonesian Union Movement” (ISEAS 2019) and the editor of “Continuity and Change after Indonesia’s Reforms: Contributions to an Ongoing Assessment” (ISEAS 2019). His newest book is “Indonesia Out of Exile: How Pramoedya’s Buru Quartet Killed a Dictatorship”, (Penguin Random House, 2022).