To thwart Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo, his 2 foes may join forces

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
To thwart Indonesian presidential frontrunner Prabowo, his 2 foes may join forces The ruling party PDI-P’s presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo (center) and presidential candidate and former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan (right) greet each other as they arrive to attend the first presidential election debate at the General Elections Commission (KPU) office in Jakarta, Dec. 12, 2023.
[Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]

The presidential candidate of Indonesia’s ruling party may ally with a competitor against frontrunner Prabowo Subianto if next month’s election heads to a runoff, a politician from the governing PDI-P said Tuesday.

If Prabowo fails to receive enough votes for an outright win on Feb. 14, the PDI-P’s Ganjar Pranowo or the third hopeful, Anies Baswedan, could have a realistic shot at Indonesia’s presidency if they consolidated their support in a June run-off  between the top two vote getters.

Most recent polls show that Prabowo, the current defense minister, has the highest support among voters but not enough to win more than 50% of the vote needed to avoid a second round. 

For now, Ganjar’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) that backs Anies are playing a waiting game, although the two sides have spoken about a possible alliance, Masinton Pasaribu, a senior PDIP member, told BenarNews.

“Let’s see what happens. I and colleagues from 01 [Anies’ number on the ballot] have had informal talks and may formalize it later,” he said regarding conversations about the prospect of joining forces against Prabowo.

Masinton’s comments to BenarNews came a day after he and an Anies campaign spokesman appeared in a YouTube video together calling for unity between the two presidential tickets. The PDI-P politician also used both candidates’ hashtags on a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Anies and Ganjar themselves did not confirm or deny the possibility of an alliance, saying on Tuesday they would wait for the results of the first round of voting.

“It’s too early to say. I think we will see on Feb. 14, by working hard from today, including being here,” Ganjar said on a campaign stop in Banda Neira, a small island in eastern Maluku province.

On the other side, Anies campaign spokesman Mardani Ali Sera said he did not rule out the possibility of an alliance with Ganjar’s camp in the second round.

“Let’s just see. We are open to communication with anyone,” Mardani told BenarNews.

Anies and Ganjar have shown on social media that they are friendly. Earlier this month, Anies was seen chatting and shaking hands with Puan Maharani, the daughter of  Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of Ganjar’s party.

Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy with nearly 280 million people, has held direct presidential elections since 2004 after decades of authoritarian rule under President Suharto. 

Next month’s vote will be the fifth direct presidential election in the Southeast Asian nation, which will be held simultaneously with polls for the national legislature and provincial assemblies.

An illustration of the four-finger salute with the slogan “BukanPrabowoGibran,” which means “no to Prabowo-Gibran,” one of the three Indonesian presidential-vice presidential candidate pairs, is seen on Instagram in a post from Jan. 25, 2024. [Via Instagram/johnmuhammad-]

It appears the backers of Anies and Ganjar aren’t the only ones who want to thwart a potential Prabowo victory.

Recently, a widely circulated social media campaign showed people posting illustrations of four finger-salutes, which was meant to convey that voters should cast their ballot for either Anies or Ganjar.

The reason for the four-finger salute?  

The election commission assigns serial numbers to the presidential and vice presidential candidate pairs. Anies is running under the number one and Ganjar under the number 3 – that adds up to 4.

Proponents of the four-finger salute campaign said the gesture was meant to express opposition to Prabowo and his running mate and urge voters to ensure the duo doesn’t win outright. Prabowo’s vice presidential candidate is Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The campaign has attracted many social media users who posted photos of themselves on X and Instagram saluting with four fingers, using the hashtag #BukanPrabowoGibran, which means “no to Prabowo-Gibran.”

Many critics have accused Jokowi, who constitutionally cannot run for a third term, of trying to build a political dynasty by promoting his family members and loyalists to government. 

Last October, the judiciary was in the eye of a storm facing allegations of nepotism after a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court, led at that time by Jokowi’s brother-in-law. 

The ruling allowed the 36-year-old Gibran to run as a vice-presidential candidate, despite those under 40 not being allowed to contest for the post.

Prabowo himself has a checkered past

He was fired from the army in 1998 for being implicated in the kidnapping of democracy activists when he was commander of the army special forces (Kopassus), although he denied any wrongdoing. He is also accused of grave human rights violations, including in East Timor.

Terror convict endorses Anies

Analysts said that an alliance between Anies and Ganjar could shake up the political landscape but would face obstacles, such as convincing the grassroots voters of their parties to ally with each other.

The main challenge for such an alliance would be the ideological gap between the conservative Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which backs Anies, and Ganjar’s nationalist – some say ultra-nationalist – PDI-P, said political researcher Dominique Nicky Fahrizal.

“The key is communication for the sake of finding common interests,” Dominique, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told BenarNews.  

“The more they open up the dialogue, the easier it will be to adapt to the situation.”

A former Jakarta governor, Anies, who is of Arab heritage, is a popular figure among conservative Muslims, despite his liberal credentials as having headed Paramadina University, which is seen as a bastion of liberal Islam. 

His defeat of a Christian candidate in the Jakarta governor’s race and role in a controversial blasphemy case against his opponent brought him conservative Muslim support.

Earlier this month, a tape circulated on social media in which  a radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been in prison for involvement in terrorism, was heard endorsing Anies’s candidature for the presidency. 

Bashir was the former spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, the group behind the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack.

In the tape that his son verified was authentic, Bashir said voting in an election was allowed for Muslims as long as it was intended to defend Islam.

“Anies Baswedan is the only candidate who understands Islam and deserves our vote,” Bashir said.

“If Anies becomes president, he will advance Islam and apply Islamic laws as best as he can, God willing. … We need to participate in this presidential election to defend Islam, by choosing a president who understands Islam.”

Defense Minister and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (left) dines with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in a photograph posted on the minister’s Instagram page captioned “An afternoon eating meatballs with the president of Indonesia in Magelang, Central Java,” Jan. 29, 2024. [Via Instagram/prabowo]

Meanwhile, President Jokowi has yet to officially endorse any candidate pair, although it’s understood he supports the one that includes his son Gibran, which is the Prabowo ticket. 

Jokowi caused a furor last week when he said the president had the right to campaign and pick sides. Election observers and political parties criticized him for potentially compromising the neutrality of the electoral process 

His comments raised speculation that he favors the Prabowo-Gibran ticket, even though he is a member of Ganjar’s party. Last week, Jokowi didn’t say whether he would campaign for any specific candidate.

Jokowi fueled further speculation this week about his support for Prabowo by publicly dining with him on Monday in Magelang, a town in Central Java province. It was the second time this month that the duo were seen having a meal together, after a similar outing in Jakarta.

Neither of them commented on the election when they spoke to reporters after dining together on Monday. 

“We talked about meatballs, coconut juice and fried tofu. They were all delicious,” Jokowi was quoted as saying by news website

Prabowo said Jokowi had a sophisticated palate – “Mr. Jokowi always knows where to have good meals.”


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