Now that the dust has settled, the real fight begins

MAY 25 — The mysteries have been solved, ending weeks of political parties’ posturing and swaggering and showing the Indonesian public the true colours of their elites.

Yes, the two presidential candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto have finally named their running mates. In rip roaring and rowdy fashion typical of the theatrics of Indonesian politics, they submitted their tickets to the General Election Committee separately earlier this week.

Jokowi, the Jakarta Governor’s popular moniker, picked former vice president Jusuf Kalla as his running mate, while Prabowo went ahead with his earlier choice Hatta Rajasa, the current senior economic minister.

The biggest surprise, however, was not their choices for the tickets, but how the decisions have split the Indonesian politicos, regardless of their party affiliations, almost down the middle, with one half throwing their support for Jokowi and the other for Prabowo.

Although Kalla is a senior Golkar Party politician, Jokowi has stuck to the coalition that his Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) has forged earlier with the National Democrat Party (Nasdem) and the Nation’s Awakening Party (PKB), with the late addition of the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura). Except for the Democratic Party and the tiny PKPI, the rest of the 10 political parties threw their weight behind Prabowo.

Golkar, which won the second-most number of votes after the PDI-P, swung its support for Prabowo at the last minute, after chairman Aburizal Bakrie’s 11th hour manoeuvres to clinch a deal with the Jokowi camp was rejected. Showing his weakening influence in Golkar, however, Bakrie’s move failed to win the approval of the party’s rank and file.

Deputy Chairman of Golkar’s Advisory Board Luhut Panjaitan soon resigned to join the Jokowi camp. The retired general has been one of the most vocal figures against Prabowo, his junior in the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), pointing out the latter’s flawed military track record.

Going against their party boss’ decision, some younger Golkar party politicians also expressed their support for Jokowi, claiming that Bakrie did not have the party’s mandate to decide on the alliance with Prabowo. Some other senior

Golkar politicians have simply said they supported businessman Kalla, who chaired the party a few years back.

Other parties are equally divided on their support for the presidential candidates. Popular dangdut singer Rhoma Irama and former Constitutional Justice Mahfud MD, who were both touted as PKB’s presidential candidates to win votes in the April 9 legislative election, went against their party’s choice and jumped across to the Prabowo camp.

Prabowo’s own running mate Hatta could not stop some prominent members of his National Mandate Party (PAN) from leaving the party to support Jokowi. And, with Hanura’s chairman Wiranto who abandoned his presidential ambition to

join the Jokowi camp, his running mate media tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo broke away to side with Prabowo. Other non-party figures including celebrities have also made clear which side they are on.

Indonesian presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (left) and his vice presidential running mate Jusuf Kalla shake hands during an event declaring their bid in the upcoming July 9 election, in Jakarta May 19, 2014. — Picture by Reuters
Indonesian presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (left) and his vice presidential running mate Jusuf Kalla shake hands during an event declaring their bid in the upcoming July 9 election, in Jakarta May 19, 2014. — Picture by Reuters

The one major party that has so far chosen to sit out the election is President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party. Refreshing though the move may seem amidst the dizzying orbits of supporters, it is a classic SBY move: avoid making a decision in order to stay safe, until a clear winner emerges.

But how will these constellations of political powers translate into popular voting in the July 9 presidential race? It’s hard to say at the moment, but some surveys have shown that at the grass-roots level, voters are equally divided in their choice of president, regardless of their political affiliations.

For example, a survey by Indikator Politik shows that 38 per cent of Golkar voters and 39 per cent of Democrat voters prefer Jokowi, as compared to 19 per cent and 36 per cent who chose Prabowo. The past two presidential elections have also shown that most people did not vote according to their party lines

Meanwhile, although Jokowi is still ahead of Prabowo in popularity, surveys are showing that his lead over his rival continues to narrow, thanks, possibly, to negative campaigns and the perception that he is a mere proxy of the PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The biggest battle for both sides now is to win over the large number of undecided voters, about 41.8 percent, according to the Indonesian Survey Circle.

Prabowo is visibly upping the offensive, playing up the religious factor with the help of Muslim-based parties and Islamist figures that make up his coalition. He is also aggressively courting those embittered by the unaccommodating PDI-P and Jokowi.

Many have said that this is Jokowi’s election to lose, so his move in the next few weeks will be crucial. At the moment, his opponent, a former commander of the Army’s Special Forces, is certainly giving him a good fight.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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