Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday endorsed opposition leader Prabowo Subianto as a candidate in next year’s presidential election.
Yudhoyono, who is chairman of the former ruling Democratic Party, said he would leave it to Prabowo to pick a running mate.
“We’ve agreed to forge political cooperation in the form of a coalition and we invite other parties to join,” Yudhoyono told reporters at talks with Prabowo at the latter’s residence in South Jakarta.
“We’ve come to an understanding that Mr Prabowo is our presidential candidate,” the former president said, to the cheers of those present.
Yudhoyono’s backing means that the presidential election is likely to be rematch between Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the incumbent president, and Prabowo, a former army special forces commander with a checkered human rights record and leader of the main opposition party, Gerindra.
Jokowi narrowly defeated Prabowo in the hotly-contested 2014 presidential election, making him the first Indonesian president without ties to the country’s political elite or the military.
A survey conducted by Indikator Politik Indonesia released in June indicated that Jokowi would capture 50 percent of the vote, compared to 39 percent for Prabowo, in a two-horse race.
Candidate registration in August
Prabowo said Yudhoyono’s support came with the condition that he put the people first.
“He made a point on several occasions that if I am given the mandate of leading this nation, I have to make the people the focus of my government,” Prabowo said.
“And I accept that because that is also the principal goal of my leadership,” he said.
Under Indonesia’s election law, only a party or a coalition of parties with a minimum 20 percent of parliamentary seats can field a presidential candidate.
Yudhoyono has previously made overtures with Jokowi, raising speculation that he was backing the incumbent president for a second term.
Jokowi’s supporters have suggested Yudhoyono turned to Prabowo after his proposal for his eldest son, retired army major Agus Hartimurti Yudhoyono, to be considered as a running mate was rejected by Jokowi.
It is widely believed that Yudhoyono wants Agus to have a go at the vice-presidency after his failed bid to win the Jakarta governorship last year.
Jokowi’s ruling coalition, led by Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), stepped out early in declaring support for the incumbent. Other parties in the coalition are Golkar, Islam-based United Development (PPP), Nasdem, Hanura and two new political parties, Indonesia Solidarity and Perindo.
Jokowi has not picked his running mate.
Prabowo’s coalition is expected to include the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN).
The choice of a running mate is expected to be the bone of contention between PAN, the Democratic Party and PKS in the run up to the candidate’s registration period from August 4-10.
PKS leaders have insisted that Prabowo’s running mate should come from the party while PAN leader Zulkifli Hasan is known to harbor ambitions for the vice-presidency.
“The Jokowi coalition and the Prabowo coalition make for a somewhat balanced contest,” said Hendri Satrio, an analyst at the Paramadina University.
“But Jokowi has an edge because his electability is higher than that of Prabowo. The inclusion of the Democrats [in the Prabowo coalition] will narrow the gap,” he said.
Golkar deputy secretary general Sarmuji said the Gerindra-Democrat alliance did not worry the Jokowi camp.
“The coalition supporting Mr Jokowi does not feel threatened at all,” he said.
Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta contributed to this report.