Indonesia’s ruling party picks veteran politician as vice-presidential candidate

Arie Firdaus
Indonesia’s ruling party picks veteran politician as vice-presidential candidate Mahfud MD, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Law, and Human Rights, speaks after he was announced vice presidential candidate for the country's upcoming 2024 election by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), in Jakarta on October 18, 2023.

Indonesia's largest political party announced on Wednesday that it had chosen a former Constitutional Court chief justice and a current cabinet minister as its vice-presidential candidate for next year’s election.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) said that Mohammad Mahfud MD, who oversees political, legal and security affairs in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government, would be the running mate of Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java province. 

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country and the largest Muslim-majority nation, is scheduled to hold its presidential election on Feb. 14, 2024, with registration of candidates taking place from Oct.19 to Oct. 25.

In a declaration speech, PDIP chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri, who led the country from 2001-04, praised Mahfud as a seasoned and versatile figure who had served in various branches of government and had extensive knowledge of law.

She said that Mahfud, a 66-year-old constitutional law professor who was defense minister under the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid, would be tasked with reforming the legal system to ensure justice for all people.

“He is the person we assign to show the true face of justice. The people have been waiting for this justice for a long time,” Megawati said, adding she had known Mahfud for a long time.

Opinion polls show that Ganjar and Mahfud face their strongest challenge next year from the ticket of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, a former army general who lost to Widodo in the last two presidential elections but is now an ally of the president. 

Prabowo has not yet announced his vice-presidential partner, but some media reports have speculated he might pick Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s eldest son and the mayor of Solo, a city in Central Java.

The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that politicians under 40 years old can run for president and vice president in the 2024 elections. It amended the election law that sets the age limit at 40 to allow exceptions for candidates who have served as members of legislative councils or regional heads at the provincial or city level, regardless of their age.

The decision by the court, whose chief judge is Jokowi’s brother-in-law, could pave the way for Gibran, 36, to contest the race as a vice-presidential candidate while his father prepares to leave office because of term limits, observers said.

The ruling has been widely criticized as nepotistic, with some legal experts warning it could undermine the democratic process. 

Questions have trailed Jokowi in recent months about whether the former furniture businessman from Solo is trying to keep his imprint on politics or build a political dynasty by promoting his family members and loyalists to government. 

Ganjar Pranowo (right), presidential candidate of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP), poses for photographs with his running mate Mahfud MD during their declaration in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 18, 2023. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

Mahfud, in his speech after the declaration, said he was ready to work with Ganjar and promised to enforce the law fairly and fight corruption. 

He also praised Ganjar as a courageous leader who was open to criticism.

Speaking at the same event, Ganjar said he wanted to make Indonesia a sovereign country in terms of territory, food, the economy, and in social and digital aspects.

He also addressed the climate crisis and pledged to use Indonesia’s natural resources while protecting them for future generations.

“This is not about us or power politics. This is about all Indonesian people,” Ganjar said.

Mahfud was Jokowi’s choice for vice president in the 2019 election, but some coalition parties blocked his nomination at the last minute.

He has consistently ranked among the top choices for vice president in public opinion surveys.

Ganjar has also enjoyed high popularity ratings, especially in Java, the country’s most populous island and a stronghold of PDIP.

Java accounts for more than half of Indonesia’s 270 million people and about 56% of its eligible voters.

Ahmad Khoril Umam, a political observer from Paramadina University,  said Mahfud would boost PDIP’s political clout as he represented the influence of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization with about 90 million members and sympathizers. 

His presence would also appeal to educated and young voters who valued his knowledge and experience in law, he said.

“Mahfud also has experience in government, in executive, legislative and judicial branches,” said Ahmad. “His experience will bolster arguments in debates, and educated and young voters value the quality of arguments.” 

Arya Fernandes, a political researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Mahfud’s nomination was in response to the talk of Prabowo running with Jokowi’s son. 

“I think PDIP wants to send an indirect message to Jokowi and his son through Mahfud’s nomination that experience and track record are important,” he said.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to the report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.