How the Jokowi-Megawati rivalry is shaping the 2024 election

The long-standing conflict between the two political bigwigs is looming large over the upcoming election and is believed to have informed political party alliance-building.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Up close and personal: President Joko Widodo (left) speaks with Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri (centre) as the party’s presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo looks on during the PDI-P national meeting in Jakarta on June 6, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

August 28, 2023

JAKARTA – The 2024 presidential race is shaping up to be a battle of two powerful kingmakers, with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo reportedly working behind the scenes to prop up the presidential bid of his former electoral rival, Prabowo Subianto, to the chagrin of his putative boss, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chair Megawati Soekarnoputri, who is backing Ganjar Pranowo for the nation’s top job.

The long-standing conflict between the two political bigwigs, which goes back to the early days of Jokowi’s presidency, is looming large over the upcoming election and is believed to have informed political party alliance-building, especially after pollsters predicted that Prabowo and Ganjar would face off in a runoff election.

President Jokowi has long had a rocky relationship with the PDI-P matriarch, who is seeking to retain her stranglehold on the nation’s largest party and expand her sphere of influence within both the legislature and executive. Since Megawati nominated Jokowi for the 2014 presidential election, she has sought to create and enforce the perception that he is performing the role of president as a “party official”.

Despite the diminutive label, Jokowi has made efforts to consolidate power around him over the years by forming alliances with other top political figures, including Prabowo, who joined his cabinet after the 2019 election. He has also managed to maintain his network of “volunteer” groups and thousands of die-hard supporters throughout his presidency, further strengthening his position vis-à-vis the PDI-P establishment.

The power struggle between the two has deepened as the 2024 election approaches, with the leaders seemingly at odds over the party’s strategy for 2024.

Widening rift

The latest point of contention has been Ganjar’s nomination. President Jokowi had sought for months to persuade Megawati to nominate Ganjar, who was topping opinion surveys and whom the President believed was someone who could carry on his legacy. Megawati, who reportedly bristled at the President’s assertiveness, reasserted her authority as party leader to determine the PDI-P’s presidential candidate during the party’s 50th anniversary celebration earlier this year, reminding Jokowi he would have been nobody without her support.

Tensions appeared to escalate in April when Jokowi was seemingly forced to appear at the event at which Megawati announced Ganjar’s candidacy after Ganjar reportedly signed a “political contract” that allowed Megawati to choose his running mate and decide on his future cabinet – accusations that the PDI-P and Ganjar have denied.

Soon after Ganjar’s nomination, Jokowi told thousands of his most ardent supporters at a “people’s conference” (Musra) in May to refrain from rushing to back any presidential candidate and that he would “whisper into the ears of all the parties” about his preference.

The President has since intensified his political courtship of Prabowo, who has chosen to consult with the President closely on electoral strategy and has promised policy continuity. Jokowi, for his part, has rewarded the minister with a steady flow of photo ops and media leaks projecting a chummy relationship between the former general and the popular President.

A minor Cabinet shake-up in July saw Jokowi appoint his loyalist Budi Arie Setiadi as the new Communications and Information Minister. The appointment of Budi, a founder of the largest pro-Jokowi volunteer group, Projo, which has shown signs of supporting Prabowo, was widely seen as a move by Jokowi to distance himself from the ruling party.

Alienating the PDI-P

The deepening rift between Jokowi and Megawati threatens to seriously damage the PDI-P’s 2024 electoral prospects, as a growing number of Jokowi’s supporters appear to be backing away from the party’s presumptive presidential candidate Ganjar to support Prabowo instead.

Prabowo initially had the backing of his own Gerindra Party and the Islam-based National Awakening Party (PKB), but the addition of Golkar and the National Mandate Party (PAN) to the grouping has put Prabowo ahead of Ganjar and opposition figure Anies, his two top rivals for the presidency, with just under half of the nine political parties in the legislature backing him.

The Defense Minister appeared to have Jokowi’s nod in pressing ahead with his newly formed four-way alliance, with Prabowo’s brother and financier Hashim Djojohadikusumo claiming Golkar and PAN had received a nod from Jokowi before pledging their support for Prabowo.

Both Golkar chairman Airlangga Hartarto and PAN leader Zulkifli Hasan have denied that Jokowi instructed their parties to support Prabowo, but observers say it is unlikely that the two parties, which have been loyal to the president, made the decision without Jokowi’s knowledge and input.

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), another staunch supporter of Jokowi and the first party to endorse Ganjar’s presidential bid last year, took a sudden turn last week. The party, which is unrepresented in the legislature, announced that it planned once again to consider public input before reaching a final decision on its favored presidential candidate and that the decision would follow Jokowi’s direction.

Prabowo’s growing alliance could deal a serious blow to the PDI-P-led electoral bloc, which consists of the United Development Party (PPP) and two parties not represented in the legislature, Hanura and Perindo.

Jokowi’s failure to explicitly endorse Ganjar could be interpreted as “a gesture of omission”, Ahamad Khoirul Umam, political science lecturer at Paramadina University, told The Jakarta Post recently.

“If indeed the PDI-P has no communication barriers with Jokowi, the PDI-P should be able to take a firm stance by ordering Jokowi to make clear that he sides with Ganjar,” Umam said.

Jokowi’s maneuvering would “slowly but surely present big risks and consequences for the PDI-P’s interests in the upcoming presidential race”, he added.

Parting with the PDI-P?

Whether Jokowi will remain in the party hinges on whether Megawati is willing to compromise and provide Jokowi ample space to pursue his agenda, said Agung Baskoro, executive director of Trias Politika Strategis.

“Every president is going to think, ‘What’s next?’ after he steps down,” Agung said. “To Jokowi, this is beyond a matter of his legacy but one of ensuring that his family is protected and that the continuity of dynastic politics from Solo can be secured and that it becomes one of the epicenters of Indonesian politics,” Agung said.

Prabowo has hinted at an interest in choosing President Jokowi’s eldest son, Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his running mate list should the Constitutional Court rule in favor of an ongoing petition to lower the minimum age for electoral candidates, a move widely seen as intended to secure Jokowi’s full support of his presidential bid.

If Gibran ran on Prabowo’s ticket, it would mean Jokowi’s political dynasty jumping ship, Agung said, noting that the PDI-P had a rule that family members of a PDI-P member could not belong to a different party. (ahw)

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