NasDem chair Surya comes in from cold as Jokowi plays ‘kingmaker’

Analysts believe Jokowi is seeking to consolidate power through his Cabinet picks as the end of his presidency approaches.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


President Joko “Jokowi“ Widodo (left) and NasDem Party chairman Surya Paloh talk during a meeting on Nov. 22, 2018.(Antara/Yudhi Mahatma)

July 21, 2023

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo hosted NasDem Party chairman Surya Paloh at the State Palace on Monday after having shunned the coalition member for months over his party’s support for opposition presidential candidate Anies Baswedan, in a détente that analysts say could be aimed at influencing a possible runoff election.

Surya, who has been candid about his desire to have a face-to-face meeting with the President, said he had received the invitation from Jokowi himself and described the talks as having a “familial atmosphere”.

The evening meeting lasted about an hour and followed a surprise Cabinet shake-up earlier in the day in which the President appointed more loyalists to top positions, including key supporters from his presidential campaigns and figures from the private sector.

Analysts believe Jokowi is seeking to consolidate power through his Cabinet picks as the end of his presidency approaches.

Surya, who celebrated his 72nd birthday on Sunday, said he had received birthday wishes from the President at the meeting and claimed the two had a bond that went beyond politics.

“My relationship with Pak Jokowi is not limited to the relationship between a party leader and a president. This is undeniably quite a close personal relationship [between] the older and the younger,” Surya said on Tuesday.

Jokowi and Surya’s connection goes back more than a decade, to when the newly established NasDem Party joined the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in supporting Jokowi for the Jakarta governorship in 2012. NasDem later supported Jokowi’s 2014 and 2019 presidential bids.

Their relationship, however, hit its “lowest point”, as Surya put it, after NasDem decided last year to endorse former Jakarta governor and top opposition figure Anies Baswedan for the 2024 presidential race.

As the party does not by itself have the required 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives to put Anies on the ballot, NasDem has teamed up with the two remaining opposition parties in the legislature – the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) – to form an electoral alliance called the Coalition for Change and Unity (KPP).

The rift between Jokowi and Surya became apparent in May, when the President excluded Surya from a meeting of the pro-government parties at the Presidential Palace. Jokowi said it would have been inappropriate to invite NasDem to a meeting discussing electoral strategy.

While the media mogul said the two “did not discuss anything formal” at their Monday meeting, Surya revealed that he and the President touched on the subject of next year’s presidential race, including whom Anies would pick as his running mate.

“I told him that […] it was Pak Anies’ [choice]. Perhaps Pak Anies knows best,” Surya said.

In the Cabinet shake-up on the same day, Jokowi appointed Budi Arie Setiadi, a leader of his most influential group of supporters, ProJo, as the communications and information minister, replacing senior NasDem member Johnny G. Plate, who is standing trial on corruption charges.

Some observers took the appointments of Budi and a number of new deputy ministers as a signal of Jokowi’s support for the presidential bid of Defense Minister and Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto over his own party’s candidate, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo.

Many of the new aides have close connections either to Prabowo or his potential running mate, State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Minister Erick Thohir. Budi also once hinted that ProJo might back Prabowo.

Jokowi’s renewed connection with NasDem could be motivated by a desire to play “kingmaker” in the event of a runoff vote, said analyst Agung Baskoro, likely by bringing Anies’ supporters to Prabowo’s side.

“With Anies’ high chance of losing in the first round in recent opinion polls, resuming talks between Surya and Jokowi would make it easier for Jokowi to have more talks in the future about having NasDem back Prabowo,” Agung told The Jakarta Post.

A number of pollsters are predicting a two-round presidential election next year, as no candidate appears poised to win a clear majority in February, with Anies thought to be the most likely to be cut from the race after the first round of voting.

That raises the prospect of Gerindra’s presumptive nominee Prabowo squaring up against the PDI-P’s candidate Ganjar in a July 2024 runoff.

The latest opinion poll from the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI), conducted from July 1 to 8, found that Prabowo was the frontrunner in a simulated three-horse race, with 35.8 percent of the vote. The same survey showed Ganjar and Anies following with 32.2 percent and 21.4 percent, respectively.

Senior PDI-P figures dismissed any suggestion that Jokowi had divided loyalties. They said the party respected the President’s Cabinet choices and that having a communications minister who was not affiliated with any political party could serve Jokowi well in advancing his goals for the rest of his term. (dds)

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