December 21, 2022
JAKARTA – Having the experience of contesting the 2019 presidential election under his belt, social-media savvy Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno is considered a strong candidate for the vice-presidential ticket. But analysts say his path to nomination is hampered by his connection to the Gerindra Party, which does not seem keen on backing him for 2024.
A longtime entrepreneur, Sandiaga has been a regular face in the Indonesian business world since the turn of the century. He cofounded Saratoga Investama Sedaya in 1997, now one of the largest conglomerates in the country, and served in the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN) as its vice chairman for small and medium enterprises in 2009.
Regularly ranked among the 50 richest individuals in Indonesia by Forbes magazine, Sandiaga’s foray into politics was largely thanks to the influence of Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto. With the backing of Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Sandiaga eventually won the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections as deputy governor to Anies Baswedan.
His tenure in the capital was short-lived, however, as he resigned a year later to contest the 2019 election as Prabowo’s running mate. Despite losing, Sandiaga joined President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration as tourism and creative economy minister, replacing fellow businessman Wishnutama Kusubandio in a Cabinet reshuffle in December 2020 after Gerindra joined the ruling coalition.
Aside from the aforementioned qualities, political analyst Bawono Kumoro of Indikator Politik Indonesia said that Sandiaga’s social media savvy was one of the driving factors behind his high electability ratings. “Through his content on YouTube and Instagram, he is capable of making his ministerial work more easily understood,” said Bawono.
An Indikator survey released in December placed him in third place among other potential vice presidential candidates, amassing 12.8 percent of the respondents’ votes. West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil and Democratic Party chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono led the poll with 19.7 and 16.3 percent, respectively.
But while Sandiaga might possess all the necessary qualities to be a solid pick for running mate, a lack of enthusiasm among parties, including Gerindra, might prove to be a hindrance to his ambitions, according to political researcher Firman Noor from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).
“Gerindra seems to no longer see Sandiaga as a person of interest. They might be looking to expand their support by allying with other political parties, which could cause a dilemma for him,” Firman explained.
Compared with other candidates, Sandiaga is quite unique in that he is one of the few names to represent voters outside Java, owing to his Gorontalo heritage. But with Prabowo wanting to rectify his shortcomings from the previous election, Bawono argues Sandiaga has only a modest chance of becoming Prabowo’s running mate in 2024.
“Prabowo has learned from his mistake in 2019 when he lost a significant amount of votes in Central and East Java,” Bawono said. To that end, Gerindra has formed a coalition with the National Awakening Party (PKB), which is immensely popular in East Java thanks to its ties with Nahdlatul Ulama, the nation’s largest Islamic organization.
In the 2019 election, the Surakarta-born Jokowi and Ma’ruf Amin ticket won 77 and 65 percent of the vote in Central and East Java, respectively. East and Central Java are the second- and third-most populous provinces in the nation, with West Java being the most populous. The island of Java is once again expected to be the key battleground in 2024.
Lack of options
While Sandiaga technically has the option of breaking away from Gerindra, with several regional branches of the National Development Party (PPP) having shown support for him, it is not a realistic option, Firman suggested.
“The PPP cannot be used as a barometer. If it was a party like Golkar, Gerindra or the [Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle], then things might be different,” said the political researcher.
This lack of options is also why Firman reckons Sandiaga tends to keep a low profile compared with other vice presidential hopefuls such as Ridwan and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir.