April 26, 2023
JAKARTA – With massive public support, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD now stands a strong chance to rekindle a dream he lost at the last minute five years ago to the incumbent Vice President Ma’ruf Amin.
All three presidential aspirants are likely to be tempted to select Mahfud as their vice-presidential running mate. For sure he would be a powerful vote-getter because of his impressive track record and acceptability to moderate Muslim and non-Muslim electorates.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed the open-minded Mahfud his chief security minister, the first-ever civilian to hold the position, perhaps as a consolation after failing to name him his running mate. Mahfud plays an effective coordinating role because the ministers and senior officials under his auspices respect him for his broad knowledge, wide networking and integrity, as well as his frank and outspoken way of communication.
Mahfud’s courage to openly talk about alleged mega-corruption at the Finance Ministry and common bribery practices at the House of Representatives, as well as his constant defense of freedom of religion and speech, are among the factors that make him attractive to voters. He is well-received by moderate, conservative and hard-line Muslims.
But the presidential hopefuls also know choosing the 65-year-old as a running mate is not without risks, especially due to his frankness and lack of hesitation to speak his mind. In the history of Indonesia, the vice president often became a “thorn in the flesh” as President Jokowi and his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono experienced when Jusuf Kalla served as their deputy.
Jokowi has named several of his favorite vice-presidential picks for the newly announced Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo. They include Mahfud, State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister Erick Thohir, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, Golkar chairman and Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil. But Jokowi did not hint at any preference.
Jokowi was forced to drop Mahfud as his running mate just before he and Mahfud were about to register their candidacy to the General Elections Commission (KPU) on Aug. 10, 2018. His coalition members told Jokowi he would likely lose against his contender Prabowo Subianto, who identified himself as the true defender of Islam, while many branded Jokowi as not “Islamic”. Jokowi then replaced Mahfud with then-Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Ma’ruf.
It is almost certain three presidential candidates will contest the Feb. 24, 2024, race. All of them, Ganjar, former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, are still searching for a running mate.
Anies will be nominated by the NasDem Party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Democratic Party. The alliance has been unable to name a vice-presidential candidate because the Democrats insist on the nomination of their chairman Major (ret) Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the eldest son of Yudhoyono. The other members of the coalition object to Agus’ candidacy, offering Mahfud the opportunity instead.
Gerindra asked Prabowo to try his luck for the third time after his loss to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 elections. The party’s coalition with the National Awakening Party (PKB) is sufficient for him to run for president again.
President Jokowi approved of Prabowo’s nomination, although he also made it clear his first choice was Ganjar, the popular Central Java governor. In order to win the presidency, Prabowo will also include Mahfud on his list of running-mate candidates.
Mahfud became a minister for the first time in 2000. Then-president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid originally wanted the law graduate to serve as pertanahan (agrarian) minister, but reportedly there was a slip of the tongue as Gus Dur called him pertahanan (defense) minister. Gus Dur did not correct his mistake.
Mahfud was elected as Constitutional Court (MK) chief justice for the 2008-2013 period. His two immediate successor, Akil Mochtar. and another politician-turned-MK justice Patrialis Akbar, were jailed for receiving bribes.
PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri finally announced Ganjar as the party’s presidential nominee on Friday, on Kartini Day and one day before the official Idul Fitri holiday.
Ganjar leads almost all public-opinion surveys, but his opposition to Israel’s participation in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, scheduled to be held in Indonesia in mid-May, angered many of his supporters.
Prabowo reportedly is seriously considering an offer to contest the election as Ganjar’s running mate, because at least he can get the VP position. But the idea has met with stiff opposition from Gerindra’s elite and the party’s grassroots supporters. The party elite is afraid its voters would abandon them because they might think the retired three-star general had betrayed them.
They are also afraid it will be PDI-P, rather than Gerindra, that will enjoy the coattail effect if such a scenario materializes. In the 2019 elections, Gerindra won more legislative seats than it did in 2014 because Prabowo contested the presidential race.
Ganjar has not found his running mate. Many have advised he choose a running mate with strong Islamic credentials and abundant financial resources. One of the possibilities is Erick, an honorary member of Nahdlatul Ulama’s (NU) youth wing GP Ansor. The U-20 World Cup fiasco, however, showed a gap between PDI-P and Erick.
President Jokowi reportedly suggests Mahfud partner with Ganjar. And Megawati should have little reason to dispute Mahfud’s candidacy.
But who is Mahfud’s preference? Mahfud has openly refused to support Anies. I guess Mahfud, if offered, would choose Ganjar as the safest choice.
The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.