Indonesia’s political parties with less to gain shirk presidential campaigning

The general election on Feb. 14 of next year will decide the next president, vice president and legislators at the national and regional levels.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


A pedestrian walks through a pedestrian bridge covered by election campaign banners in Salemba, Jakarta on Dec. 7, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

December 21, 2023

JAKARTA – While the 2024 presidential candidates have been pounding the pavement seeking to win over the country’s voters, some of the political parties backing them appear to have turned their attention away from the top of the ticket and toward the legislative elections.

The general election on Feb. 14 of next year will decide the next president, vice president and legislators at the national and regional levels.

Alongside billboards and banners featuring the presidential and vice presidential candidate pairs, the campaign ads of legislative candidates have flooded the country’s streets in the past weeks.

With such a large number of candidates running for office, not all political parties have campaigned for their presidential pick with the same intensity, said Firman Noor, senior political researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).

He said the political parties that had nominated presidential or vice presidential candidates from their own ranks or from closely affiliated spheres were already campaigning at full intensity as they had the most to gain, both through the candidates themselves and in legislative races as a result of the coattail effect.

These parties include the Gerindra Party, whose chair Prabowo Subianto is seeking the presidency; the National Awakening Party (PKB) with VP candidate Muhaimin Iskandar; the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) with presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo; and the NasDem Party with presidential candidate Anies Baswedan.

“Meanwhile, for other parties, which are only lending their support to presidential candidates who are not members of their party, their calculations are rather pragmatic as they know they are unlikely to get a significant boost from the coattails of the candidate pairs,” Firman said. “They will campaign for presidential candidates in some regions, where these candidates still appeal to some of the party’s voters, while focusing only on their legislative candidates in other regions.”

Such campaign disparities are prominent in the nine-way Indonesia Onward Coalition, which backs frontrunner Prabowo. Alliance leader Gerindra is going all-out for Prabowo, but other members of the alliance appear to be more subdued in their campaigning for the defense minister, focusing instead on promoting their legislative candidates, said analyst Dedi Kurnia Syah.

The Democratic Party, the largest opposition party in the House of Representatives, has notably refrained from putting up banners of Prabowo and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. The party’s campaign posters instead feature its legislative candidates alongside party leader Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono and his father, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).

The Democrats have dismissed suggestions that the party has been slack in its campaigning for Prabowo-Gibran.

“We are bringing [Agus] and Prabowo [into our campaign posters], but in some regions, SBY needs to come into view,” party spokesperson Herzaky Mahendra said, as quoted by Tempo.

Read also: Candidates keep up pace as presidential campaign enters second week

The Golkar Party, a member of the pro-Prabowo alliance, has put up fewer billboards featuring Prabowo and Gibran than those it put up earlier this year in support of party chairman Airlangga Hartarto’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Another alliance member, PAN, had a similar mismatch following its unsuccessful bid to nominate State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir as Prabowo’s running mate.

Dedi noted that the reserved campaigning from some parties could also be the result of concerns about being associated with the controversies surrounding Gibran’s candidacy.

Gibran threw his hat into the ring after the Constitutional Court, headed at the time by his uncle Anwar Usman, carved out an exception to the candidate age minimum to allow him to run for vice president. Anwar was later found guilty of an ethics violation in relation to the case and was dismissed from chief justice position.

“Gibran taking the shortcut may have stoked concern among alliance members who do not want to be at the receiving end of the opponent’s propaganda of dynastic politics and nepotism,” Dedi said.

The two other presidential camps have not been immune to campaign disparities.

Even though the political parties in the PDI-P-led alliance supporting Ganjar appear more unified in their campaign efforts, a recent survey by the research arm of Kompas daily placed public support for the PDI-P at 18.3 percent, outpacing Ganjar’s 15.3 percent.

This showed that “the PDI-P might be solid in bringing victory for the party, but not necessarily so with Ganjar,” Dedi said.

Read also: PDI-P tones down tough rhetoric against Jokowi

He suspected that there were “Jokowi loyalists in the PDI-P’s voter base and they are very likely to shift their support to Prabowo even though they remain loyal to the PDI-P.”

Firman noted that “differences between party elites and the grassroots over whom they should vote in the presidential race could also be the reason why the political machinery of the political parties is not optimized” for campaigning for presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Such dynamics are evident in the National Development Party (PPP), a member of the PDI-P-led alliance backing Ganjar. More than a dozen people in Yogyakarta claiming to represent the party’s grassroots openly declared their support for rival Anies and his running mate Muhaimin earlier this month.

Ganjar himself has acknowledged parties’ divided focus between helping him and campaigning for legislative candidates, saying that each political party in his camp would consolidate its own voter base.

“[Our] colleagues are now working on that,” he said last week.

Anies and Muhaimin, meanwhile, have acknowledged being the candidate pair with the lowest number of campaign banners and billboards on the streets. They have said some of the campaign posters were put up on the initiative of their volunteer groups.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

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