February 27, 2023
JAKARTA – The meteoric rise of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has long been, at least partly, ascribed to his ability to mobilize his army of volunteers, who played a critical role in his digital campaigns.
When Jokowi gathered thousands of his supporters in the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, Central Jakarta, last year, political bigwigs were visibly uncomfortable with the political muscle-flexing of the former Jakarta governor. It was a testament to the growing clout of volunteer groups, if not populist politics, in post-authoritarian Indonesia.
Now that the 2024 presidential election is drawing close, questions have been raised about whether potential candidates seeking to succeed Jokowi will be able to harness the power of volunteerism that helped bring him to the State Palace.
While President Jokowi may have implied his preference for Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, the frontrunner in the upcoming presidential race according to various surveys, the President’s reluctance to explicitly endorse a single candidate left his supporters scrambling to choose who they think is the “best” candidate to replace him.
Most of them may have chosen Ganjar, the “white-haired” leader that Jokowi may have implied to be the hard-working leader to vote for; but others turned to his former rival, Prabowo Subianto, and even his current archrival, Anies Baswedan.
Some of Jokowi’s most ardent supporters, such as Denny Siregar, Ade Armando, Mohamad Guntur Romli and Sein Assegaf, have been seen in Ganjar volunteer group meetings.
And earlier this month, Jokowi Mania (JoMan), a volunteer group that has backed Jokowi since 2014, announced it now supported Prabowo, Jokowi’s defense minister and erstwhile rival-turned-ally in the previous two presidential elections.
JoMan chairman Immanuel Ebenezer said both he and Prabowo had reconciled their relationship following the bitterly contested 2019 presidential elections, during which the former tried to report the former general to the police for “spreading hoaxes”. “He is a patriotic leader, a forgiving individual and he is always ready to work for the country,” Immanuel said more recently, as quoted by Antara.
Some of Jokowi’s supporters also decided to back Anies, Jokowi’s former education minister, who has now become the face of the opposition.
One of the notable figures who still claims to be a Jokowi supporter, yet openly endorses Anies, is former agrarian and spatial planning deputy minister Surya Tjandra. Surya was a volunteer for Jokowi’s gubernatorial bid in Jakarta in 2012. To endorse Anies as the next president, Surya left the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a strong supporter of Jokowi’s leadership and Anies’ staunch critic at the Jakarta City Council.
Not a monolith
The fragmentation of Jokowi’s volunteer groups may represent the plurality of his voter base when it comes to choosing his successor.
A survey released by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) last month revealed that 44 percent of Jokowi’s voters in the 2019 elections will vote for Ganjar, followed by Prabowo with 22 percent and Anies with 20 percent.
A similar polling published last month by Jakarta Survey Institute (LSJ) revealed 40.6 percent of Jokowi voters would choose Prabowo, 40.5 percent would choose Ganjar and 15.6 percent would choose Anies if the presidential election was held today.
A Kompas survey released last year showed Jokowi still had some influence over the 2024 presidential election, with 15.1 percent of respondents saying they would vote for whomever Jokowi endorsed and 35.7 percent saying they were still considering whether they would heed his endorsement.
Jokowi still matters
Political analyst Firman Noor said the split opinions among Jokowi supporters had emerged because his voters were unable to find one candidate who had the same character as the incumbent. “So they choose candidates who they see could be his best successor based on their own judgment,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.
Noory Okthariza, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has cast doubt on whether volunteer groups still have the power to sway voters without the political magnetism of Jokowi as the “grassroots” president.
“Most people have already had a preference about who to vote for in the 2024 presidential election based on their beliefs, cultural background, education, etc. Besides, the stance of Jokowi’s prominent supporters does not necessarily represent opinions in the grassroots, especially when most of them live in Jakarta,” Noory said.
The situation will be different if Jokowi chooses to endorse a candidate for the 2024 elections. He would boost the candidate’s popularity and chance of winning, since many of Jokowi’s die-hard supporters would campaign for the candidate to ensure victory. (ahw)