Indonesia’s next president: It may all come down to the running mate

APRIL 13 — Indonesians voted for their legislatures last Wednesday, and unofficial counts have made at least one thing clear: never underestimate the complexity of Indonesian politics and the fickleness of its voters.

True to the pre-election forecasts, the top three political parties with the most votes are Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar and Gerindra. A major game changer, however, is the PDI-P’s underwhelming victory. 

Though leading the race, its 19 per cent votes – much less than the targeted 27 per cent – means it will have to join up with other parties to meet the 25 per cent threshold to nominate a president. 

The shortfall has exposed a growing discord within the party itself with head of electoral strategies Puan Maharani at the centre of the friction. A source close to the party’s top structure said tensions between Puan, the daughter of party chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri, and the party’s widely popular presidential candidate Joko Widodo has slowed down efforts to exploit the “Jokowi Effect”, the Jakarta governor’s nickname. 

Her half-hearted support for Jokowi’s nomination had delayed TV promotions until the last three days before the campaigning season ended. By then the slots for political commercials at TV stations were pretty much booked up by other parties, the PDI-P source said. 

Another revelation in this election is that despite Golkar’s uninspiring and controversies-ridden presidential nominee Aburizal Bakrie, the party is still a force to reckon with at 14 per cent votes, thanks to its well-established political machinery. Trailing Golkar is Gerindra with a nearly 300 per cent jump to about 12 per cent votes, made possible by its presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s popularity. 

With Bakrie being the least favourite candidate of the three, the race for Indonesia’s top position on July 9 is set to be a battle between Jokowi and Prabowo.

Jakarta and presidential candidate from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) party, Joko Widodo, shows his ballot paper during voting in the parliamentary elections in Jakarta April 9, 2014 Reuters
Jakarta and presidential candidate from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) party, Joko Widodo, shows his ballot paper during voting in the parliamentary elections in Jakarta April 9, 2014 Reuters

PDI-P is naturally allied with National Democrat, the only new party this election that garnered about 6.7 per cent votes. To be safe in the presidential race, however, it needs to strengthen the Islamic credentials of Jokowi’s ticket. 

This is where the National Awakening Party, which draws support from the largest Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama, comes in. Meanwhile, Gerindra has been in communication with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party. 

The latest situation has made the role of running mates more crucial.  An effective running mate will provide a balance to what the presidential candidate lacks. Professional credentials, the breadth of experience, factors such as Javanese and non-Javanese, and military vs civilian backgrounds will make a difference to voters’ choice. 

Prabowo’s camp has touted Anti-Corruption Commission Head Abraham Samad as a potential running mate, while a few names have been hinted as Jokowi’s likely number two. 

Jusuf Kalla, 72, is one of the strong contenders for Jokowi’s running mate. A deputy to President Yudhoyono in 2004-2009, he was seen to be a compensating factor to his boss’ perceived indecisiveness. 

A senior Golkar official and a South Sulawesi native, his joining the ticket will split Golkar’s votes for Bakrie and mobilize supports from eastern Indonesia. The businessman enjoys strong credentials in Islam and business. His main drawback, however, is his age gap with Jokowi. 

Another name being floated is former chief justice of the Constitutional Court and a PKB cadre. Mohammad Mahfud MD’s contribution to the ticket will be his legal expertise and PKB’s support in the race but he lacks the economic background and international perspectives.  

Top economic minister Hatta Radjasa has been actively courting the PDI-P for the VP post for some time. The 61-year-old has served the government since 2001, first under then President Megawati, then in President Yudhoyono’s two-term administration. Although hailing from the National Mandate Party (PAN), he is a close confidante of the President and the two are related by their children’s marriage. Hatta may use PAN’s close association with Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, to strengthen the Islamic credentials of the pair. 

Jokowi is said to benefit from a military partner in the election, largely because he will face a tough challenge from Prabowo. A number of names have been mentioned as potential candidates, among them former army chief of staff Ryamizard Ryacudu, 64, a close friend to Megawati. But since his retirement from the force, he has not done much to boost his post-military presence.  

Indonesian Military Commander General Moeldoko, 56, has been touted as  another potential VP for Jokowi. He attracted public attention because of his three rapid promotions in the span of a few months 2013, first as Deputy Army Chief of Staff in February, Army Chief of Staff in May, and as TNI Chief on August 30. 

One of the fastest rising generals in the military, Moeldoko has held a variety of prestigious command and staff positions, and has not been linked to any problematic military operations. He is as a reformist in the military, determined to make TNI more professional and to steer clear from politics.  Four years older, he may make a good running mate to Jokowi. However, he is not well known to the public, and has never served in other capacity outside the military. 

Intent on showing that he has taken charge of his presidential campaign, Jokowi has said that he would choose his own running mate. After all, it may be his election to lose.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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