Yustinus Paat, Jakarta – In a surprise move that could throw a wrench in President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's recent effort at coalition-building, the National Democratic Party declared on Wednesday it would throw its support behind Anies Baswedan should the Jakarta governor decide to run for president in 2024.
Anies has always been touted as a potential candidate to succeed Jokowi five years from now. But his religiously charged campaign to oust the president's close ally Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama in the Jakarta gubernatorial election two years ago has also made him the poster boy of Islamist political forces in Indonesia.
NasDem had supported Ahok in his fight against Anies and joined the Jokowi camp before the 2019 elections.
But now NasDem is facing the clear prospect of having to share power with Prabowo's Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) in a ruling coalition.
The other opposition parties, such as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN), are also working their way into the ruling coalition.
This were the reasons why NasDem chairman Surya Paloh, a media tycoon and a former Golkar politician under Soeharto's New Order, decided to make his punt with Anies.
On Monday, he arranged a meeting between the parties in the Jokowi coalition, inviting everyone except the president's own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
On Wednesday, the canny political operator dropped another bomb: he will support Anies' presidential ambition – on the same day that Prabowo met with PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri to discuss the prospect of Gerindra joining Jokowi's ruling coalition.
"We will be behind him all the way," Paloh said after a meeting with Anies at the NasDem headquarters in Central Jakarta.
"But we have a long way to go yet. We will do this together. We hope Anies can fulfill his destiny to become a leader of this country," Paloh said.
The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) – another party in the Jokowi coalition, but one that failed to win any seat in the House of Representatives – was quick to criticize NasDem's move.
"PSI is different from Nasdem. Even though we both support Jokowi, we will never form a coalition with people who politicize religion to gain power," Tsamara Amany, the head of PSI's central board, said on Wednesday.
"We have warned in the past that people should be wary of politicians who call themselves nationalists but who are pragmatic enough to form coalitions with other leaders who allow the politicization of religion. Today we are witnesses to such pragmatism. Hopefully, this will be a lesson for us all," Tsamara said.