Indonesia’s presidential candidates make final plea for votes at election rallies

Indonesian presidential hopefuls danced, belted out punchy slogans, and pleaded for support at their last rallies on Feb 10.

Arlina Arshad, Hariz Baharudin, Linda Yulisman and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

Arlina Arshad, Hariz Baharudin, Linda Yulisman and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

The Straits Times


Presidential candidate Prabowo's last grand rally at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium on Feb 10. PHOTO: Ariffin Jamar/THE STRAITS TIMES

February 11, 2024

JAKARTA – In lively scenes which resembled mega music concerts, Indonesian presidential hopefuls danced, belted out punchy slogans, and pleaded for support at their last rallies on Feb 10, ending 75 days of campaigning ahead of the high-stakes polls on Feb 14.

Frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander and current defence minister, is locked in a three-way fight with former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

The race is tight, with opinion surveys through January showing nobody breaching the golden 50-per-cent simple majority mark to win the election outright. Analysts have widely predicted a June run-off, but the tide appears to be turning for Mr Prabowo days before the race. After months of stagnant electability ratings, two latest surveys showed Mr Prabowo breaking the threshold.

In a survey by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, carried out from Jan 28 to Feb 4 and released Feb 9, Mr Prabowo received 51.8 per cent of the vote from respondents, followed by Mr Anies with 24.1 per cent, and Mr Ganjar with 19.6 per cent.

In another poll by Indonesia Survey Agency released Feb 10, Mr Prabowo received 51.9 per cent of support, followed by Mr Anies with 23.3 per cent, and Mr Ganjar with 20.3 per cent.

Mr Prabowo is running on the same ticket with Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, mayor of Solo and son of the popular outgoing President Joko Widodo, who had defeated Mr Prabowo twice in the 2014 and 2019 elections.

In his trademark booming, raspy voice, Mr Prabowo, 72, urged his supporters who had filled the Gelora Bung Karno stadium in central Jakarta to turn out in full force and give them a single-round victory.

“On February 14, we will all determine the future of our children and grandchildren. Prabowo-Gibran, and the Indonesia Forward Coalition, will fight to eliminate poverty from Indonesia,” said Mr Prabowo, referring to the grouping of political parties that supports him.

“We strive to bring prosperity to all Indonesians… We will continue what the President has built so far,” he added, naming several of the archipelago’s leaders including Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Ms Megawati and Mr Widodo.

Mr Prabowo’s words were met with thunderous applause from the tens of thousands of supporters who had turned up, mostly clad in light blue which has been the colour adopted by his campaign team.

Indeed, the Prabowo-Gibran camp has been aggressively pushing out the narrative of a single-round election, through speeches, media statements, and posters spread across the country saying “All In Prabowo-Gibran in One Round”, “On the Way to One Round”, and “Gaspol One Round”. Gaspol is local slang for “to go full throttle”.

Some 205 million people are registered to vote at the twin presidential and legislative elections on Feb 14.

Two major issues hotly debated for months were over Mr Gibran’s candidacy and the president’s lack of neutrality.

The controversial Constitutional Court ruled in October 2023 that the minimum age of 40 for Indonesia’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates does not apply to anyone who is an elected regional leader, thereby allowing Mr Gibran, 36, to contest the election.

The chief justice, who is Mr Gibran’s uncle, was subsequently removed by an ethics panel for failing to recuse himself and for making last-minute changes to election candidacy requirements.

In recent weeks, democracy activists, students and university lecturers have expressed their anger over what they deemed were worsening democratic standards, bringing up issues of unethical, corrupt and nepotistic practices in the country.

Mr Prabowo’s opponents appeared unfazed by the new survey results.

At the nearby Jakarta International Stadium, Mr Anies, who is running with veteran politician and chairman of National Awakening Party (PKB) Muhaimin Iskandar as his vice-presidential candidate, exhorted his supporters to push for change.

Meanwhile, Mr Ganjar, who is pairing up with former chief security and law minister Mahfud MD, urged the crowd in Central Java to guard the provincial homeground of his party, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

In a rousing speech that started an hour before noon, Mr Anies thanked the thousands of his supporters who turned up at the stadium. The former governor, who spoke for close to an hour, called on Indonesians to uphold high standards of ethics and to vote for change.

“We are here because we want change, we have seen the unfairness that has coloured Indonesia. How can we allow this? It is our responsibility to stop the unfairness and the inequality, we must make the change happen,” he said, to loud applause and cheers from the crowd.

“This afternoon, we can see this gathering of so many people. It is impossible to not be moved when you see the spirit of change here.”

Mr Widodo has been drifting from the ruling PDI-P – under whose banner he ran in the 2014 and 2019 elections – following disagreements with party matriarch Megawati Sukarnoputri purportedly over differing choice of candidates.

Flanked by party heavyweights including Ms Megawati, Mr Ganjar, who is PDI-P’s presidential candidate, stressed the need for government’s neutrality in the election.

“Guard our polling stations, guard our votes. Your voice, the people’s voice, is also God’s voice,” he said to supporters in Solo, the hometown of Mr Widodo and Mr Gibran.

Wearing traditional Javanese outfits and riding a cow’s cart, he told supporters there: “We obey God, we obey the law, and we are always loyal to the will of the people.”

Showing a three-finger salute, which refers to his ballot No. 3, he said: “We are metal, and will win in total.”

In the late afternoon, he headed to Semarang, another city in Central Java.

With only days to the polls, many voters – at least the hundreds of thousands who flocked the Feb 10 “grand rallies” – appear to have made their decision on whom they believe will best succeed Mr Widodo.

As they made their way to the stadium by foot and motorcycles, supporters of Mr Prabowo and Mr Gibran danced and sang the campaign theme song and waved banners bearing the pair’s faces. During the rally, they sang: “Prabowo, Gibran, One Round! Prabowo, Gibran, will surely win!”

One of them was single mother Ms Eka Susi Mariani, 48, who took the hour-long journey via train from her home in South Jakarta alone to attend the rally. Her two children, who are in their 20s, stayed home.

Ms Eka, who voted for Mr Widodo in previous elections, said that Mr Prabowo will be her choice because he is widely seen as the choice of the president.

“I believe Pak Jokowi’s choice of Pak Prabowo will make Indonesia change for the better after 2024,” said Ms Eka, adding that she believes the would-be president will work to improve healthcare services and create more jobs.

Election fever was high, almost too high for some. Amid cheering crowds, some supporters were reported to have fainted at the rallies held throughout the day.

Traffic in some parts of Jakarta ground to a halt, as supporters from all over the archipelago descended upon the city. News reports throughout Feb 10 continually updated about jams on roads outside the rallies in the capital, as supporters scrambled to get in and out.

In the pouring rain, many supporters of Mr Anies had arrived from various parts of Java as well as other islands by bus and bikes on Feb 9, sleeping on stadium seats at the rally venue.

By morning, the crowd had spilled out of the jam-packed stadium. Some headed towards a makeshift stage by the road where leaders of parties supporting Mr Anies took turns to give speeches.

Amid melodious Quranic recitations, they also called for courage to change, chanting: “Anies President, Muhaimin Vice-President. Victory, Victory, Victory!”

Jakarta resident Harto Sudarmo, in his 60s, said he and his extended family had attended the rally to express their dissatisfaction with increasing food prices and the declining state of affairs in the country.

Mr Harto, who runs a provision shop, told The Straits Times: “Prices of things have gone up, rice, cooking oil. If the government is not able to stabilise prices, we cannot have the same kind of people to run the country again. We must change.”

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