May 4, 2023
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is making a last-ditch effort to put together a united front to nip opposition figurehead and presidential hopeful Anies Baswedan’s chances in the bud and conclude the 2024 election in a single round, just as coalition parties hit a wall in deciding the best candidate pairing to win the race.
Jokowi on Tuesday hosted a halal-bihalal (post-Ramadhan gathering) for leaders of major pro-government parties, in which they discussed plans to stitch together a “grand alliance” to back election frontrunners Ganjar Pranowo and Prabowo Subianto as a pair, according to a close ally of the President.
The guest list for Tuesday’s event included Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri, Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto, Golkar Party chairman Airlangga Hartarto, National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar, United Development Party (PPP) acting chairman M. Mardiono and National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Zulkifli Hasan.
NasDem Party chief Surya Paloh, who has forged an electoral alliance with the opposition Democratic Party and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) to back Anies, was conspicuously absent during the event. Several party members confirmed on Tuesday that Surya was still in Singapore and was not invited to the event.
“The meeting is intended to realize the proposed ‘grand alliance’ with the formation of Ganjar-Prabowo being the presidential and vice-presidential candidates,” senior PPP politician Muhammad “Romy” Romahurmuziy said in a statement.
This arrangement, he said, was based on the fact both Ganjar and Prabowo had topped public opinion polls and that the slot for the presidency was more suited to the winner of the 2019 legislative elections, while the runner-up party should fill the vice-presidential slot.
“Of course, this will be up to Prabowo, whether he is willing to become the vice-presidential candidate despite a party mandate for him to run for president,” said Romy.
The meeting was the first to involve Megawati, after five pro-government party leaders announced last month they were considering stitching together a big-tent alliance merging the Golkar-led United Indonesia Coalition (KIB) and the Gerindra-led Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition (KKIR) to back a pro-government pair to run in 2024.
This plan appeared unlikely to materialize, however, following the surprise presidential nomination of Ganjar by the PDI-P, which prompted the PPP, a member of the KIB, to switch allegiances and back the ruling party’s move.
Meanwhile, Prabowo, as the current election frontrunner, who some believe to have been tacitly endorsed by Jokowi, has downplayed the possibility of him being paired with Ganjar as a VP candidate, arguing Gerindra was backing him for the top job and that his party was in a “strong position” to continue doing so.
“If the proposed ‘grand alliance’ that excludes NasDem does not materialize, [Tuesday’s] meeting would finalize the distribution of power among the six political parties supporting the government,” Romy said.
“Distribution is important to ensure continuity in the development that has been carried out by the current government, especially mega-infrastructure projects such as the new capital, toll roads, dams, airports, etc,” he said.
“This is in line with Jokowi’s wishes conveyed on a number of occasions that the [incoming] president in 2024 is hoped to be nominated and motored by political parties supporting the current government.”
Speaking to reporters after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, Airlangga insisted the discussion revolved around the economic challenges that the nation is facing, such as the middle-income trap.
“The six [party leaders] who met with the President tonight have a common understanding. We talked about development,” the Golkar chairman was quoted by Kompas.com as saying.
“Issues relating to the candidacies are for political parties to decide.”
Meanwhile, PPP’s Mardiono said Jokowi appealed to the party chairs to “get along, stay united and work together for the sake of nation and state”.
Leaving the Presidential Palace separately that night, Prabowo dismissed suggestions that the meeting was called to address electoral politics per se. Instead, he said, the discussion touched on Indonesia’s potential to become the fourth largest economy in the world.
“This is highly possible if we are good in taking advantage of our situation. That is what he has entrusted to us,” the ex-general said, as quoted by Kompas.com.
The Presidential Palace has yet to come out with its own statement on the meeting.
Since before the start of the political year, observers have noted Jokowi’s tendency to take some liberties in the search for his succession, more so than other presidents before him.
Previously, allies of Jokowi openly toyed with the idea of extending the term limits, as the government sought ways to safeguard the legacy of the big-tent coalition and of “Indonesia Inc.”
While those in government suggest policy continuity is needed to sustain growth in the world’s third-largest democracy, others have criticized Jokowi for being overly ambitious and nondemocratic.
What is clear, regardless of the consequences, is the President likes to pull his weight in high politics.
Bawono Kumoro, a researcher of pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, said Jokowi was likely to mediate the differences among pro-government parties even if both Ganjar and Prabowo end up running as rivals.
“Jokowi, as a king maker, may negotiate who will complement both Prabowo and Ganjar’s electoral weaknesses, as the running mate plays an important role in what could be a tight race,” Bawono told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Having both Ganjar and Prabowo running as contenders may also give Jokowi the advantage, as both his possibly preferred successors are likely to go head-to-head in a two-round race.
“Running as a pair would pave the way for government critics and opposition to be concentrated on Anies, while letting Prabowo run could draw these voting blocs to him instead,” he argued.