Prabowo gears up for potential showdown with Anies

For Prabowo, 2024 could be 2014 all over again, with the ex-general again forced to compete with a former beneficiary for the presidency.

Fikri Harish

Fikri Harish

The Jakarta Post


Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto (right) attends the campaign event of Jakarta gubernatorial candidate pair Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno at Banteng Square, Central Jakarta, on Jan. 5, 2017.(Antara/M. Agung Rajasa)

March 9, 2023

JAKARTA – The 2024 presidential election is shaping into a three-horse race, and with Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo as the man to beat, a potential showdown to reach the runoffs is looking increasingly inevitable between Gerindra Party leader Prabowo Subianto and his former ally, Anies Baswedan.

For Prabowo, 2024 could be 2014 all over again, with the ex-general again forced to compete with a former beneficiary for the presidency.

In 2014, Prabowo faced off against Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, whom he had backed in the Jakarta governorship race just two years before. A decade later, Prabowo will again be battling another politician he helped win the capital’s top job: Anies.

In a meeting on Sunday at Prabowo’s residence in the West Java village of Hambalang between him and NasDem Party chairman Surya Paloh, who is backing Anies’ presidential bid, Prabowo finally acknowledged that he would have to compete with yet another former Jakarta governor.

“If NasDem is firm in its support of Anies, then we have to respect that. We’re prepared to face them and let the people vote,” said the former commander of the Army’s special forces.

‘Intersecting voting bloc’

Prabowo and Anies are currently the only presidential hopefuls to have secured formal backing from electoral alliances with more than 20 percent of seats at the House of Representatives, the presidential nomination threshold.

Meanwhile, Ganjar appears to be waiting for backing from either the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) or the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB) comprising the Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP).

Read also: PAN chairman hints at throwing support behind Ganjar-Erick pairing

The latest survey by Kompas Research and Development, released in February, found that Ganjar was still the man to beat with 34.9 percent of respondents saying they would vote for the “silver-haired” politician in 2024. Support for Prabowo and Anies tended to fluctuate, with the incumbent defense minister currently ranked second with 28.7 percent, just ahead of the ex-Jakarta governor with 24 percent.

Under the rules for the presidential election, if none of the candidates wins 50 percent of the votes on Feb. 14, 2024, the top two candidates to proceed to a second ballot.

Political analyst Bawono Kumoro of pollster Indikator Politik told The Jakarta Post that the battle between Prabowo and Anies vying for the second spot would be of particular interest.

“They’re both courting an intersecting voting bloc, so one of them will have to give way to the other,” he said.

In the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, Anies rode on a wave of Islamic conservatism with the backing of Gerindra and won. Two years later, Prabowo used a similar strategy in the 2019 presidential race, during which President Jokowi eventually won reelection after he picked senior cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.

Read also: Prabowo targets key battleground area to back Anies

It is no surprise that nearly 99 percent of Prabowo’s supporters identify as Muslim, according to a Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) survey released in January. But Prabowo saw conservative Muslim support diminish as soon as he joined the Cabinet of the man he had failed to defeat in two elections.

“Forty-four percent of Prabowo voters have shifted their support to Anies, [and] 13 percent to Ganjar, while 37 percent have stayed loyal to Prabowo,” said SMRC founder Saiful Mujani.

Political contract

Aside from trying to quell tensions within President Jokowi’s alliance, which includes both Gerindra and NasDem, Bawono said this reflected the influence Prabowo still held in national politics.

“It’s worthy of some appreciation that, even when their political paths diverge, they’re still prioritizing unity instead of rivalry,” he said.

The apparent camaraderie marks a turnaround after controversy arose in January, when Gerindra politician and former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno revealed that Prabowo, Anies and he had signed a political contract prior to the 2017 Jakarta election.

After Anies was removed as education and culture minister in 2016, Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) gave him a platform to run for Jakarta governor. While the details of the contract were never revealed, speculation was rife that it contained a condition preventing Anies from running against Prabowo for the presidency.

For his part, Anies said during an online interview in February that he had fulfilled his end of the bargain by not running against Prabowo in 2019.

Prabowo has not criticized Anies directly, but he alluded to being “betrayed” in his speech during Gerindra’s 15th anniversary event, which many deemed was a dig against Anies.

Indonesia Political Review executive director Ujang Komarudin says Prabowo’s announcement that he was ready to face Anies is a sign that the former general has now accepted that he must face someone he supported in the past.

“NasDem backs Anies because he has high electability ratings,” Ujang said. “Whether he likes it or not, Prabowo doesn’t get to choose his opponents, and he has to be ready for the possibility of competing with Anies.”

Jokowi factor

Prabowo’s spokesman and Gerindra politician Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, however, isn’t particularly worried that Anies is siphoning support away from Prabowo.

“Let’s not forget, Pak [Mr.] Jokowi’s voters and other voters who have seen the statesmanship of Pak Prabowo are also moving to support him,” Dahnil told the Post.

It remains to be seen if Jokowi’s supporters will vote for Prabowo, given how politically and ideologically polarizing the last two elections were. (ahw)

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