The ghost of identity politics and Anies’ presidential ambitions

Anies, who won the gubernatorial election over incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnima, believes his track record over the last five years as Jakarta governor will attract voters.

Kornelius Purba

Kornelius Purba

The Jakarta Post


Outgoing Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan visits the offices of The Jakarta Post in Palmerah, West Jakarta, on Sept. 9. (JP/Abdur Rahim)

September 19, 2022

JAKATRA – Outgoing Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan is beating the drum for the presidential race in 17 months from now, although no party or electoral alliance has nominated him yet, and his supporters, including Islamic groups, have vowed to fight for him tooth and nail. You can imagine a repeat of the divisive Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2017, the ghost of which still haunts many.

In a visit to the offices of The Jakarta Post on Sept. 9, Anies openly stated his readiness to run in the Feb. 14, 2024, presidential election. And he also has a plan B. If he fails to realize his dream of becoming Indonesia’s eighth president, he will try his luck again in the Jakarta gubernatorial election on Nov. 27, 2024.

Apart from Anies, Defense Minister and Gerindra Party chair Prabowo Subianto has declared his quest for the presidency. Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo has consistently led opinion polls as a potential presidential candidate, but the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), of which he is a member, is reluctant to endorse him and may prefer House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani instead, although she is near the bottom in most public opinion polls.

Anies said he would consider a nomination a “call of duty”.

“I am getting ready at the moment. If [a party decides to] nominate me, I’ll take it as a call of duty. I will do it,” he told the Post. “I’m open to both [gubernatorial and presidential elections].”

Anies reiterated his intentions in an interview with Reuters, pointing out that public opinion surveys consistently ranked him as a top contender in the presidential race, along with Prabowo and Ganjar.

“I’m prepared to run for president if a party nominates me,” he told Reuters in Singapore, adding that not being a member of a party allowed him “room to communicate with all factions”.

In a recent conversation I had with a group of die-hard Anies supporters, they argued that the Jakarta governor deserved a shot, given his numerous achievements, including the construction of the Jakarta International Stadium and the improvement of many public facilities. And much more importantly, they said, Jakarta had maintained peace and order over the last five years as Anies had acted as a wise “father” to Jakartans.

These supporters pledged to fight it out for Anies, who they said would transform Indonesia into a much better nation. They voted for Anies in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election and supported Prabowo in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, which were both won by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

They believe Anies could easily win the presidency even though he does not belong to any political party and that Jokowi will use every means at his disposal to prevent Anies from running.

“Insyallah [God willing] Pak Anies will be our next president,” they said, full of confidence.

To be honest, I am worried identity politics will rear its ugly head again in the 2024 presidential election, regardless of who enters the race.

The NasDem Party has announced Anies, Ganjar and Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Andika Perkasa as potential presidential candidates, but the party’s grassroots look likely to lean toward Anies. The Democratic Party of fifth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) have also hinted at the possibility of endorsing Anies. The coalition of the three parties will be eligible to nominate Anies as a presidential candidate.

Based on the current political dynamics, four presidential nominations will likely be handed out.

First, the PDI-P, the only party that meets the threshold of House seats to field a presidential candidate on its own, looks set to nominate Puan, the daughter of party matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Second, the Indonesia United Coalition – consisting of the Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP), which collectively control a sufficient 25.73 percent of House seats – has yet to announce its presidential nominee.

Third, Gerindra and the National Awakening Party (PKB), which hold 23.84 percent of the legislative seats combined, may endorse Prabowo as their presidential candidate.

Fourth, NasDem, the Democrats and PKS, which together have 28.35 percent of the House seats, are still negotiating their alliance plans and may nominate Anies.

Anies, who won the gubernatorial election over incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnima, believes his track record over the last five years as Jakarta governor will attract voters.

Anies was an unexpected contender for the 2017 Jakarta election, but a blasphemy case plaguing double minority governor Ahok allowed Jokowi’s former education minister to turn the tables. The Islamic card, backed by, among others, hardline Islamic groups, helped Anies score an upset win.

One month after the runoff election, the North Jakarta Court sentenced the Chinese and Christian Ahok to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. Many Ahok supporters have not forgiven Anies because, according to them, he sided with the Islamic hardliners.

Anies has tried to play down the devastating impact of his victory on Jakarta’s social cohesion. The United States-educated governor himself is tolerant and was raised in a modern and moderate Muslim family. But he seems not to have done enough to reconcile with Jakarta voters. He keeps his relationship with his supporters, including hardline Muslim groups, intact as if he is reluctant to lose his comfort zone.

Several times, however, Anies has shown pluralist intentions by visiting churches on Christmas and Easter celebrations.

So far, it is uncertain whether Nasdem, the Democrats and the PKS will form a coalition to nominate Anies as a presidential candidate,

but anything can happen. Indonesian elections have often had elements of surprise, so Anies stands a chance. But to be honest, I would be frightened if, in his bid to win the presidency, Anies relies on the old recipe he used to defeat Ahok.

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