December 6, 2022
JAKARTA – As a Javanese man President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo prefers to refrain from openly expressing his opposition to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) plan to nominate its chairwoman’s daughter Puan Maharani as its presidential candidate in the 2024 race. But his actions and statements show he does not want Puan to contest the election, perhaps because he believes it will be a suicidal act for the party and, also for his carefully crafted post-presidential plans.
Jokowi will leave office in October 2024, but his approval rating is still high for a second-term president and his grassroots support remains strong. Several volunteer groups who supported his nomination in the 2014 and 2019 elections have vowed to support whichever presidential candidate he will endorse in 2024.
Acting as pressure groups, they have organized gatherings to show off their power, in the presence of the President. During these rallies Jokowi has often hinted at his preference for Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo as his successor.
Jokowi has also been preparing his political future because he will only be 63 years old when he transfers power to the new president. Jokowi stands an almost perfect chance of holding a strategic position in the PDI-P, including the top job because no other politician in the party can match his capacity and acceptability.
Do not forget Jokowi may also have made plans for the political future of his three children, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Kahiyang Ayu and Kaesang Pangarep. Like father like son, Gibran is the current Surakarta mayor and may intend to run in the gubernatorial election in Central Java, or perhaps Jakarta, in November 2024. Kahiyang’s husband Bobby Nasution now serves as the mayor of Medan in North Sumatra and may eye the gubernatorial post in the regional elections in November 2024.
Jokowi’s youngest son, Kaesang, who will marry his fiancée Erina Gudono next week, runs a medium-sized business, but may also follow in his father’s political footsteps.
Jokowi’s pressure on the PDI-P and party chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri to pick Ganjar, rather than Puan, as presidential candidate looks like a preemptive act, because the party will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Jan. 10 next year, 13 days before Megawati’s 76th birthday on Jan. 23, 2023. Party insiders believe she will make her final decision on the party’s presidential candidate during the PDI-P anniversary celebrations.
At that time Megawati may announce that she will work with President Jokowi in determining the best presidential candidate. She has stated on a few occasions that she would always consult Jokowi on the matter of the presidential nomination. The two have met several times, but no agreement has apparently been reached.
The last time Jokowi signaled his endorsement of Ganjar came on Nov. 26, when he said the next president of Indonesia should have white hair and a wrinkled face because it was proof that the person had worked very hard for the people. White hair is the trademark of 54-year-old Ganjar, a two-time Central Java governor.
In fact, on several occasions Jokowi has also signaled his blessing for his defense minister, Prabowo Subianto, to run for president for a third time. For Jokowi Prabowo could be the second-best choice if the PDI-P refuses to nominate Ganjar.
The PDI-P has persistently reprimanded Ganjar for showing his personal ambition to run in the presidential election. He has consistently led the opinion surveys along with Prabowo and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan. Ganjar has repeatedly said that he will never betray his party but continues using social media as his campaign platform.
Unlike Ganjar, Puan’s electability rating has never exceeded 3 percent. Her approval rating is equally low even among her party supporters. The surveys have also found that many party supporters will abandon the PDI-P if it chooses the House of Representatives speaker over Ganjar as its presidential nominee.
It is safe to conclude that Puan has little chance of winning the presidential race, even though the PDI-P does not need to form a coalition to contest the presidential election. But Megawati seems to be generous in giving her daughter more time to prove she deserves a shot.
So far the party top brass remain extra cautious in responding to Jokowi’s maneuvering because they know Megawati still has confidence in him.
In 2014, Megawati gave up her presidential ambition at the last minute to pave the way for Jokowi. Megawati had lost to her former chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the previous two races in 2004 and 2009, but her sacrifice in 2014 paid off. In 2019 the PDI-P had no choice but to renominate the incumbent Jokowi.
Now, Jokowi is also eyeing a position within the PDI-P because Megawati is not getting any younger and the supreme leader of the country’s largest party has no clear succession path. Puan is generally perceived as Megawati’s heir-apparent, but we should remember that in a patriarchal society like Indonesia, Puan is not regarded as inheriting the Sukarno mantle. Her name is not Puan Maharani Soekarnoputri, but Puan Maharani Taufiq Kiemas.
Megawati holds absolute power in the party, but when she decides to leave the political stage, Jokowi is by all means the most fitting candidate to replace her.
The PDI-P’s 50th anniversary can be a moment of truth for Jokowi when Megawati announces her choice of presidential candidate. I am pretty sure Megawati will make up her mind based on common sense in order to keep hold of the party, her own legacy and to ensure progress. I also believe that Megawati will announce during the party’s anniversary or her 76th birthday a key position for Jokowi in the party.
Jokowi will seek every avenue to stay relevant after leaving office and to ensure his successor will carry on his legacy. Not endorsing Puan as presidential candidate is one of the steps he has to take.
The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.