Anies’ identity politics will cost Prabowo his third presidential bid

Believed to turn into a three-horse race, the Feb. 14, 2024 presidential election will likely see Prabowo miss the cut, paving the way for a run-off between Anies and Ganjar Pranowo.

Kornelius Purba

Kornelius Purba

The Jakarta Post


Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto (right) speaks at a campaign event of Jakarta gubernatorial candidate pair Anies Baswedan (center) and Sandiaga Uno, held on Jan. 5, 2017 at Banteng Square in Central Jakarta. (Antara/M. Agung Rajasa)

May 2, 2023

JAKARTA – Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto’s third bid for the presidency will likely falter, this time because of Anies Baswedan, whom he helped win the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election. Not only will Anies attract many of Prabowo’s voters in the 2019 elections, but he will also send the former army general packing.

Believed to turn into a three-horse race, the Feb. 14, 2024 presidential election will likely see Prabowo miss the cut, paving the way for a run-off between Anies and Ganjar Pranowo, the outgoing Central Java governor nominated on April 21 by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

In his quest for the presidency, Anies will likely repeat the identity politics tactic that helped him beat the reelection bid of then-Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and Chinese Indonesian.

On a number of occasions, however, Anies has claimed that he champions religious tolerance.

When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo installed Anies as Jakarta governor, The Jakarta Post’s editorial said that Anies and his deputy Sandiaga Uno “know full well that after a divisive election that came close to tearing the fabric of the community, pitting one ethnic group against the other or one neighbor against the other, what’s needed is a winner who is not presumptuous and is ready to stop spreading rhetoric that could further sow fresh seeds of division”.

Anies’ choice of strategy will be damaging to Prabowo, who had also banked on identity politics to win his presidential bids in 2014 and 2019, but failed. Indonesia survived the two divisive elections, but the scars remain today.

Many who voted for Prabowo in the last two elections will likely shift to Anies in 2024, according to various surveys. In 2014 and 2019 they voted for Prabowo, a former son-in-law of Indonesia’s second president Soeharto, because they were against Jokowi, whom they deemed was un-Islamic.

Jokowi picked as his 2019 running mate Ma’ruf Amin, who was then chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and a Nahdlatul Ulama cleric, to counter the Islamic card the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair were playing. The gamble paid off.

Jokowi won in 21 provinces. On Sumatra, he prevailed in North Sumatra, Lampung, Bangka Belitung and Riau Islands. On Java, he won in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Central Java and East Java. Voters in Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Gorontalo, West Sulawesi, Maluku, Papua, West Papua and overseas gave him an edge.

Prabowo defeated Jokowi in 13 provinces. On Sumatra, he won in West Sumatra, Aceh, Riau Jambi, South Sumatra and Bengkulu. On Java, Prabowo took West Java and Banten. He also led in West Nusa Tenggara, South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, North Maluku and South Kalimantan.

Anies has traveled to many regions to introduce himself as a presidential aspirant since his nomination by the NasDem Party last October. But uncertainty lingers until today as to whether he will really contest the election, as NasDem, the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) backing his presidential bid have yet to settle a disagreement over his running mate.

NasDem chairman Surya Paloh announced the party’s decision to back Anies on Aug. 14 and formalized it on Oct. 3. The move surprised many, because NasDem is part of the ruling government coalition and it was an open secret that Anies had built up his image as an antithesis to Jokowi, who dismissed him as education and culture minister in 2016.

The NasDem-led Coalition of Change for Unity (KPP) has yet to reach consensus on its vice presidential candidate. The Democrats insist on nominating their chairman, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, for the vice presidency, but Surya said the former Army major had not proven he deserved the post. Agus’ father, sixth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is reportedly fighting hard for his son’s political ambition.

But even if the alliance manages to break the deadlock, NasDem has to tread extra carefully as its leader because Jokowi still has the power to embarrass the party.

The President on several occasions hinted at another Cabinet reshuffle, which many predicted would affect the three ministerial posts NasDem held. But Jokowi changed his mind, preferring to keep NasDem in the government in order to keep the party hostage.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) is now investigating a graft case that may implicate Communications and Information Minister Johny G. Plate, who is also NasDem’s secretary-general. State prosecutors have grilled Johny for nine hours as a witness over his alleged involvement in the case, which concerns the construction of base transceiver stations (BTS) as part of a state 4G telephony project under his supervision. In January, the AGO named and arrested three people as suspects in the case.

Prabowo’s presidential ambition is no less complicated. Gerindra has forged an electoral alliance with the National Awakening Party (PKB) to meet the presidential nomination threshold. The PKB accepted Gerindra’s offer on expectations that its chairman Muhaimin Iskandar would be Prabowo’s running mate.

Golkar, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP), which formed the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB), intended to join forces with Prabowo to set up a “grand coalition”. But as soon as the PDI-P announced last week that it had nominated Ganjar, the idea started to fall apart. Instead, the KIB looks set to join forces with the PDI-P.

Ganjar’s nomination means he is currently the only contender who has secured formal backing, as the PDI-P already meets the presidential threshold. He has talked about his potential running mates, including Prabowo.

However, Prabowo has openly refused the offer to be Ganjar’s running mate and plans to run for president himself.

Many things can happen until the General Elections Commission closes registration for presidential and vice presidential candidates on Nov. 25, but most likely a three-horse race scenario will bode ill for Prabowo. He lost twice to Jokowi in 2014 and 2019 and in 2024, ironically it will be his former partner Anies who will hand him his third defeat.


The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.

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