Presumptive presidential candidate of Indonesia faces vice-president dilemma

The candidate, Prabowo Subianto, must choose between an Islamic party leader or a trusted aide of President Joko Widodo.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Gerindra Party Chairman Prabowo Subianto (right) meets closed door with National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Muhaimin Iskandar at the latter's house in Jakarta on July 9, 2023. PHOTO: Antara/THE JAKARTA POST

August 1, 2023

JAKARTA – Presumptive presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto is facing a dilemma over his choice of running mate, now that he is forced to choose between an Islamic party leader that could help him win a key battleground province or a trusted aide of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, whose endorsement is seen as critical in the election.

While the momentum of his candidacy has gathered pace, with the latest polls placing him as the man to beat against his rivals Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan in the upcoming presidential race, Prabowo still needs to pull his weight and name a running mate that could help him widen his appeal outside its traditional base.

Tension has grown within the Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition (KKIR) over who should run alongside Prabowo, with one of the founding members of the two-way alliance, the National Awakening Party (PKB), threatening to reevaluate its support for Prabowo if its chairman Muhaimin Iskandar failed to get the vice presidential slot. 


The  PKB made the threat amid speculations that Prabowo was considering to pick State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister Erick Thohir as his running mate. Erick, widely known as a close ally of President Jokowi, has been touted as the strongest candidate for the vice presidency in various opinion polls, as his popularity soared following his election as chairman of the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI), a high-profile position in the soccer-crazed nation.  

The media tycoon has had a short time in Indonesian politics but came to prominence after gaining favor as a close ally of President Jokowi, who tasked Erick to organize the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and later to lead his successful 2019 reelection campaign, a feat that earned him a lucrative Cabinet position.

While Erick has no affiliations with any political party, he has gained the support of the pro-government National Mandate Party (PAN), which has yet to nominate a presidential candidate but has openly campaigned for him as a potential running mate.

Collectively controlling more than 20 percent of seats at the House of Representatives, an alliance of just the Gerindra Party and PAN would still pass the constitutionally mandated threshold to field its own candidate pairing.

“Having someone with a strong entrepreneurial background like Erick as a running mate offers Prabowo the needed logistical strength deemed important in winning the race,” Agung Baskoro, executive director of Trias Politika Strategis, said.


Jokowi connection

The idea of pairing Prabowo with Erick appeared to get a nod from President Jokowi when Prabowo, along with Erick at his side, was seen driving a Pindad-made tactical vehicle in East Java last week with “Indonesia” written on the car’s plate, as the President and the first lady, Iriana, sat on the backseat.

The two ministers have been seen accompanying the President on numerous occasions, ranging from watching the Indonesia-Argentina soccer match to during one of Jokowi’s signature impromptu visit (blusukan) to a local traditional market in Malang, East Java, to check on the basic commodities prices. 

President Jokowi has dismissed suggestions that his appearance with Prabowo and Erick is highly political, but members of PAN and Gerindra have openly suggested otherwise, saying it was reflective of Jokowi’s endorsement for both Prabowo and Erick. “When I see the photographs, [I took it as] the President displaying support for the candidates or people who were riding the car,” Gerindra secretary-general Ahmad Muzani said last week.


Losing NU support

Naming Erick as a running mate, however, comes with the risk of the PKB withdrawing its support and causing Prabowo to lose a strategic ally that could help him court support in East Java, where he has had back-to-back defeats against his former rival Jokowi in previous elections. 

The PKB, now the country’s most popular Islamic party, has a support base that is mostly made up of followers of the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which represents a potentially huge voting bloc, especially in its stronghold in East Java, the second-most populous province after West Java.

Despite having forged a political deal with Gerindra, the PKB has appeared to keep its options open, with Muhaimin hosting the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) executive Puan Maharani at his private resident in South Jakarta last week, during which they discussed a possible partnership in the 2024 race.

When asked about his party’s stance on the Prabowo-Erick pairing, PKB deputy chairman Jazilul Fawaid even said the party would “find better luck” with the PDI-P, which has named Muhaimin as potential running mate to its presidential candidate Ganjar, if Muhaimin was not named as Prabowo’s running mate.

Losing the PKB would put Prabowo at a disadvantage, as merely relying on Erick, who was recently made an honorary member of the NU’s youth wing organization Banser, would not be enough to help him court support in East Java, Ahmad Khoirul Umam, political analyst of Paramadina University said.

“Erick does not have strong roots in Nahdliyyin while PAN’s support base is more concentrated among the Muhammadiyah community that does not have a stronghold in the island of Java,” Umam said. “Prabowo’s camp would likely try his best to keep PKB and Muhaimin on his side,” Umam added. (ahw)

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