January 10, 2024
JAKARTA – That Prabowo Subianto is leading the pack for next month’s presidential race is thanks in no small measure to his campaign platform, which vows to protect and continue the legacy of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Prabowo is channeling Jokowi, and more and more voters are falling for it.
The defense minister has no qualms about portraying himself throughout the campaign season as heir apparent to Jokowi, who will step down in October after 10 years in power.
For his part, Jokowi has openly given his blessing to his erstwhile rival and used his still-high approval rating to give Prabowo an edge against the two other contenders. A case in point was when he moved to make it possible for his 36-year-old eldest son and Sukarta Mayor Gibran Rakabumi Raka to run as Prabowo’s running mate, circumventing the candidacy age of 40 years in the General Elections Law.
While it is not clear what kind of a deal Prabowo and Jokowi have struck over this year’s election, many voters are warming to the idea of a Prabowo presidency, primarily because of the strong support he is receiving from the incumbent. Prabowo’s electability, according to all reliable surveys, soared quickly in November after he named Gibran as his vice president.
With just one month to go until the election, the Prabowo-Gibran ticket is aiming to win the election in a single round, and they might just succeed.
A survey published last week by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) shows the pair is leading at 43.7 percent. Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan is second at 26.1 percent, and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo is trailing in third at 19.4 percent.
In the eyes of many voters, a Prabowo presidency is really Jokowi 3.0.
At 72, the retired Army general has seen his best years and is visibly ailing. Gibran, on the other hand, is still too young and inexperienced to lead a country of 280 million people. Analysts and voters expect Jokowi to have a strong say in the Prabowo administration, in whatever position he gets.
This is also the reason why many voters will cast their ballots for Prabowo after voting against him in both 2014 and 2019 in favor of Jokowi. Many voters will have voted against him three times if we count the 2009 election, when Prabowo lost as the running mate of Megawati Soekarnoputri to incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In a recent interview, Prabowo said this would be his last bid for the presidency and that would retire if he lost.
This time around, however, he senses that victory is imminent. And while he is getting plenty of help, it is not because he has learned from his mistakes: He is simply embracing the man who defeated and humiliated him in two elections, trying to personify him as far as he can.
This tactic goes back to October 2019, when he accepted Jokowi’s offer to serve as defense minister in the new cabinet. He has also demonstrated his loyalty, not even once openly uttering anything bad about the President. His strategy has paid off in winning Jokowi’s blessing and with it, the promised votes from millions of Jokowi supporters.
Prabowo’s vision and mission statement could easily have been written by Jokowi or his team. He promises continuity on virtually all of the incumbent’s policies. Most important to Jokowi is his promise to continue with the Nusantara Capital City (IKN) project, and move the seat of government from Jakarta to the new capital currently being carved out of a forested area in East Kalimantan.
As late as October, Jokowi had wavered between Prabowo, the founding chair of the Gerindra Party, and Ganjar, the presidential candidate of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), under which he was the winning ticket in 2014 and 2019. He was obviously unconvinced by Ganjar’s ability to protect his legacy and policies.
When Prabowo pledged to pick Gibran as his running mate, Jokowi got the Constitutional Court, chaired by his brother-in-law Anwar Usman, to mete out an exception to the candidacy age of 40 years. Anwar was later found in breach of the court’s ethics code, but the decision was upheld.
Prabowo and Ganjar were running neck and neck in all surveys throughout 2023, with Anies trailing in third. But after Prabowo picked Gibran, Ganjar saw his support fall dramatically, and has now supplanted Anies in third.
This year’s election is increasingly turning into a battle of the status quo versus change, with Prabowo representing the former and Anies the latter. Ganjar’s platform of continuity with some acceleration is not gaining much traction among voters, many of whom want someone who truly embodies Jokowi.
And the President has in the past justified his interventions, or “cawe-cawe” in Javanese, if they are for the good of the nation.
Jokowi has continued to remain popular, with most polls putting his approval ratings at over 70 percent, which is exceptionally high for a president in the twilight months of their second and final term. He is still in command of the coalition government, comprising seven of nine political parties in the House of Representatives.
He also controls the Indonesian Military, the National Police and the civil service, as well as the administrations of all provinces and regencies led by the interim heads he appointed.
Reports are emerging of local administrations, police officers and military personnel harassing Anies and Ganjar’s campaigns, despite the neutrality their leaders pledged.
Anies has seen the authorities in several towns cancel his permits for election rallies at the last minute, while Ganjar has seen military personnel beat one of his supporters black and blue during a rally in Central Java, the jurisdiction of his former governorship.
Those campaigning for Prabowo also use materials flaunting the President’s generous social assistance program, which has been extended until June, to woo voters. For poor voters, this and other welfare programs of the Jokowi government, including the national health and social security program, matter the most.
In the past week, Jokowi has hosted separate private but highly publicized dinners at the Bogor presidential palace with Prabowo, along with senior economics minister Airlangga Hartarto and Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan. The three are the respective chairs of Gerindra, Golkar and the National Mandate Party (PAN), all of which are backing Prabowo’s presidential bid, and thus another major signal of the President’s “endorsement” to his millions of supporters.
For Jokowi, Prabowo succeeding him with Gibran in the wings is the next best thing, after he lost an earlier attempt at a constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for a third term. It is also part and parcel of him building his political dynasty, literally from scratch.
Jokowi was an outsider when he first bid for the presidency in 2014. After winning reelection in 2019, he used his influence to get Gibran elected as mayor of Surakarta, his family’s hometown and his former mayoralty, and his son-in-law Bobby Nasution as mayor of Medan, North Sumatra. In October, his youngest son Kaesang Pangarep, 29, was elected chair of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), only two days after he had joined as a member.
By helping Prabowo in the presidential race, he is paving the way for Jokowi 3.0. The question is, how many people will vote for this on Feb. 14?