President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is expected to face off in a rematch against former Gen. Prabowo Subianto when Indonesians go to the polls in one year – April 17, 2019.
Still, pundits warn that much can happen in the next few months as parties and coalitions face an August deadline to nominate presidential candidates and their vice presidential running mates, given the pragmatic nature of political parties in the country.
Before the race kicks off officially, Jokowi appears to be running strong, leading in polls by 30 percent to 40 percent against his rival. Other potential presidential candidates including former Armed Forces chief Gatot Nurmantyo, Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan and Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, show less support in the polling.
“Until August, there will be plenty of political compromises and that’s the dynamic of Indonesian politics,” Emrus Sihombing, a political lecturer at Pelita Harapan University’s postgraduate program, told BenarNews. “It’s about trying to find the balance in power sharing, which party gets what power. After all, Indonesian politics is more pragmatic than ideological.”
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.
“But the coalition is still not solid without a political contract,” Voxpol Center political analyst Pangi Syarwi Chaniago told BenarNews.
Chaniago said coalition members could back out if they find there was little or nothing to gain from the coalition. The top prize for coalition members would be having Jokowi select his running mate from their party.
Jokowi’s PDI-P holds 109 seats, falling short of the 112 needed to field a candidate in the presidential race and forcing the party to form a coalition with other parties. The coalition represents 290 seats – more than half of the 560-seat House of Representatives (DPR).
Meanwhile, Prabowo’s Gerindra party falls 39 seats short of meeting the requirement and expects support from two Islam-based political parties, National Mandate Party (PAN), which has 49 seats; and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) with 40 seats.
Pundits said PKS would be Gerindra’s most likely coalition partner.
“But I think even PKS could withdraw from the coalition should they find that they have nothing to gain from it,” said Rico Marbun, the executive director of pollster Media Survei Nasional (Median).
PKS has stated it wants Prabowo to pick one of its best nine candidates as his running mate before committing to a coalition with Gerindra. PKS President Sohibul Iman is among the nine candidates, along with West Java Gov. Ahmad Heryawan, former PKS President Anis Matta and senior member Mardani Ali Sera.
“It makes sense that we ask (Gerindra) to choose our candidates. Every party has its own rights,” Ali Sera told BenarNews, adding it likely would withdraw its support if Prabowo did not select a PKS running mate.
Gerindra’s secretary general, Ahmad Muzani, said his party could look for another coalition partner as it considers vice presidential candidates and PKS members.
“Our focus now is to grasp aspiration from the grassroots and find out who they prefer as vice presidential candidate,” he said.
Prabowo, a retired army special forces general and former son-in-law of the late Indonesian dictator Suharto, might have to look elsewhere for a vice presidential candidate as pollsters said the PKS candidates have little support from the public. The most popular vice presidential candidates are mainly non-party candidates, including Baswedan and Nurmantyo.
Other parties that have not joined or established coalitions include National Mandate Party (PAN) with 49 seats, Democratic Party with 49 seats and National Awakening Party (PKB) with 47 seats.
Jokowi, who is expected to seek a second term but has not officially accepted his coalition’s nomination nor named a vice presidential candidate, remains the most popular presidential candidate with electability ranges from 35 percent to 57 percent, while Prabowo’s numbers range from 20 percent to 42 percent.
The official presidential campaign will begin Oct. 13 and end April 13, 2019, four days before 196.5 million eligible voters will be able to go to the polls.
“Once the parties register their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, political machines such as volunteers or those outside the official campaign team will launch their informal campaign, since the official one cannot start until October,” Sihombing said.
Local polling, known as Pilkada, are to be held on June 27 to elect 17 governors, 39 mayors and 115 regents for Indonesia's four most populous provinces – West Java, East Java, Central Java and North Sumatra.
The increased political polarization and use of religion as a tool to sway voters came to light in 2017 when Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian, lost to Baswedan, who received backing from Muslim groups that raised protests against Ahok over blasphemy claims.
Amien Rais, the chairman of PAN’s advisory board, was reported to police on Sunday by Cyber Indonesia over a speech he gave at a Jakarta mosque two days earlier.
“Now we have to mobilize all the strength of this nation to come together and strengthen this party, not just PAN, PKS, Gerindra, but the groups that defend the religion of Allah, that is hezbollah. To fight against who? To fight against the forces of Satan,” he said at the Baiturrahim Mosque in South Jakarta as quoted by CNN Indonesia.
“Those who are anti-God, they automatically join the big party, that is the party of Satan,” he said. “Know that the party of demons must be inhabited by the destroyers, those that would destroy the world and the afterlife.”