September 7, 2022
JAKARTA – House Speaker Puan Maharani is making high-profile public appearances and increasingly playing the woman card in a bid to boost her electability, which has remained stubbornly low in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election. Representing the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the country’s largest political party, is not enough to secure the country’s top job, as the president will be directly elected by voters in February 2024. She needs to be one of the most popular candidates to have a chance of winning.
Puan does not have much time. Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, whose Gerindra party has declared his candidacy for 2024, is growing in popularity and enjoying the field almost to himself while other potential figures are holding back. Today, wherever Prabowo goes, he will be referred to as a presidential candidate as well as defense minister and Gerindra chair. He is the man to beat.
For Puan, it is a question of whether she has any chance of beating Prabowo. Unless she improves her electability, she might have to sit down and let Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, who is far more popular, take up the PDIP’s presidential-nomination ticket.
Puan, 46, is the daughter of former and current PDIP chair Megawati Soekarnoputri, who makes the final decision about the presidential nomination. Megawati is insisting that Puan contest the 2024 election to continue the family tradition of leading Indonesia. Megawati was president in 2001-2004 and her father Sukarno was Indonesia’s first president from 1945-1966. Megawati is not going to rush naming Puan as the party’s candidate, unless the daughter improves her electability.
All surveys of the most-popular figures for 2024 elections put Prabowo and Ganjar in the top two, followed closely by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. Puan consistently features lower in all these surveys, not even in the top five. She has a long way to go.
The electoral law says that only political parties have the power to nominate their presidential and vice-presidential candidates in 2024, and then only parties that have won at least 25 percent of the legislative votes in 2019, or 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Parties can pool their votes or their share of the House seats to jointly nominate their candidates. Going by this definition, only PDIP has the automatic right to nominate its candidates. Gerindra had to secure the support of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) in formally announcing Prabowo’s 2024 candidacy.
Last week, Puan launched her “political safari” visiting other political parties to explore the possibility of forming a coalition ahead of the simultaneous presidential and legislative elections in 2024. She comes with a huge leverage: The offer of the running-mate slot, and of course Cabinet seats, if they were to support her presidential bid.
Puan’s first target is the National Democratic Party (Nasdem), which came fourth in 2019. In its congress in July, Nasdem announced three figures as possible presidential candidates: Ganjar, Anies and Gen. Andhika Perkasa, the chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI).
Nasdem has formed a coalition with the Democratic Party (PD) and the Islamist Justice Welfare Party (PKS) but they have yet to agree on their common president and vice-presidential nominations. Nasdem chairman Surya Paloh, owner of all-news channel MetroTV station, said after the meeting that the party may consider supporting Puan.
Puan has yet to announce her next visit to other political parties, but she will be sure to maximize the publicity to help boost her popularity, just as she did with the Nasdem visit.
And she is increasingly using the woman’s card to help boost her popularity. With women making up more than 50 percent of the registered votes, Puan should be able to tap into this group of votes if only she could convince them that she represents their interests.
Feminist groups say Puan has a poor track record, as does her mother, when it comes to fighting for women’s interests. This, in spite of being a politician all her career life, first as PDIP officer and later elected to the House in 2009. She also served as Coordinating Minister for Public Welfare under president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in 2014-2019.
As House Speaker, Puan took full credit for the passage of the Sexual Violence Law early this year, even though the legislation has lingered in the House for more than 10 years.
Last week, in a speech before PDIP women cadres in Lampung province, while upholding the Indonesian traditional male-dominated view of women’s role first and foremost as a mother and wife, she said: “God willing, in 2024, we will see more women as regional heads, more women ministers and a woman president,” adding however that: “We have to struggle to achieve these.”
Not much is known about Puan’s private life as a wife and mother. She has managed to keep her marriage to businessman Hapsoro Sukmonohadi and their two children out of the public eye.
Whether she runs or not in 2024 is now up to Megawati who will be monitoring the surveys before making her decision.
In 2014, Megawati wanted to contest the presidential election, having lost her bid twice in 2004 and 2009 to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. She wisely dropped out of the race and gave the ticket to then-Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, who went on to win the election in 2014 and again in 2019. The PDIP’s fortunes went up with Jokowi’s popularity to become the largest party in the country.
It remains to be seen how the surveys will look when the field is narrowed down to two or three candidates, which is the most likely scenario in 2024. Would more people choose Puan if given a choice of only two or three names? Can she beat Prabowo in a two-horse race?
If Puan’s electability remains low, Megawati can turn to Ganjar as a backup. But even then, she has to decide soon so that the Central Java governor can also start building his public profile as a viable presidential candidate.
What we’ve heard
A NasDem executive revealed that the party is still adamant about nominating Anies Baswedan, Ganjar Pranowo and Andika Perkasa as potential presidential candidates as agreed in the National Working Meeting a few months ago. The source said that a coalition agreement would occur if NasDem and its coalition partners can agree on the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The source added that PDI-P’s approach through Puan Maharani would be considered too. “We will not be rigid,” said the source.
Another source said that NasDem would not simply abandon the Prosperous Justice Party and the Democrat Party despite the communication with PDI-P. The politician said that NasDem’s communication with the Democrat and PKS is far more advanced than with PDI-P. The source believes the alliance that with PKS and Democrat will continue in order to endorse Anies as a presidential candidate. “We share similar views about Anies,” said the source.
On the other hand, the source said that another factor that hinders a coalition with PDI-P, PKS and Democrat is the ideology and history of the parties. PDI-P and PKS are ideologically in opposite positions, therefor they are unlikely to join forces. With the Democrat, the source said the sour ties between Megawati and SBY is seen as an obstacle for them to work together.
A PKS politician also said that they are continuing to communicate with NasDem after Surya Paloh met with Puan. The two are said to be discussing a figure that can be accepted by all parties involved in the coalition. “Communications are still ongoing, and we are discussing a suitable name,” they said.
Meanwhile a source from PDI-P said the party will not announce its presidential candidate anytime soon. The source said PDI-P would propose that a coalition with NasDem should name Puan the presidential candidate, as PDI-P won more votes than NasDem. “This still needs a long process of discussion,” said the source.
This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia’s political and business landscape. Access our latest edition to read the articles listed below:
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