Marchio Irfan Gorbiano and Kharishar Kahfi, Jakarta – In an apparent move to consolidate power around him, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has teased the public with the idea that his former rival Sandiaga Uno would "very likely" succeed him in 2024.
Jokowi made the remark during a speech before the members of the Association of Young Indonesian Businesspeople (Hipmi) in Jakarta on Jan. 15, where former vice presidential candidate Sandiaga was in the audience.
"The [Hipmi] chief patron [Bahlil Lahadalia] said earlier that among those in attendance is the candidate that would very likely to succeed me. I believe that is true, but I won't mention specifically who it is, but he just stood up [after being addressed] earlier," Jokowi said, referring to Sandiaga, who once served as Hipmi chairman.
The President started his speech by saying that he could not name all the senior Hipmi members and former chairmen, saying that he only remembered one name, "Bapak Sandiaga Uno", who stood up and was applauded by the organization members.
Jokowi, however, had appeared to downplay his remark, telling reporters on Friday that he merely "took the bait" from former Hipmi chairman and the current head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), Bahlil Lahadalia.
"I just played along with the bait from the head of the BKPM. We would support anyone [in the 2024 race], but it's still quite a long time ahead. The  presidential election has just ended," said Jokowi at the Merdeka Palace on Friday.
Sandiaga, in his response to Jokowi's remark, said as quoted by kompas.com: "Maybe the President was joking, or maybe he just wanted to encourage me. He's a good man."
When asked about the possibility of running in the next election, Sandiaga said he would "never stop fighting".
The Gerindra Party politician previously left his deputy Jakarta governor post to run in the 2019 presidential election with the party's patron, Prabowo Subianto. The pair garnered 44.5 percent of the vote, while incumbent Jokowi, who ran with senior Muslim cleric Ma'ruf Amin, grabbed 55.5 percent.
Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) political observer Firman Noor said the remark could be another attempt made by Jokowi to consolidate power after the 2019 presidential election.
"It is concerning because a positive remark to a figure seen as a rival [during the election] can reduce the number of people seen as in opposition to the government. It can drop the country's democratic quality even further," he said on Sunday.
National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Budi Gunawan, who is also known for his close relations with Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri, also gave a positive signal for Sandiaga.
Budi, who also serves as Indonesian E-Sport Association chairman, inaugurated Sandiaga as the association's supervisory council member in a ceremony in Jakarta on Saturday.
"Our honorary guest, who is also willing to be a member of our supervisory board: Bapak Sandiaga Salahudin Uno. I don't think it's a problem to start the campaign early," Budi said jokingly in his speech, as quoted by Antara news agency.
He later correlated Indonesia's demographic dividend, which could become up to 52 percent from the total population, with the younger generations' penchant for e-sports.
"I repeat: 52 percent of [the demographic dividend]. For those who want to run in 2024, e-sports is a very strategic sector," Budi said.
Jokowi and Budi made their remarks amid speculation that Gerindra would team up with the PDI-P in the 2024 election after leaders of the two parties were involved in a series of meetings last year.
PDI-P and Gerindra, however, have not yet named any potential presidential candidates.
LIPI's Firman highlighted that although Budi and Jokowi encouraged Sandiaga, the two didn't exactly belong to the same camp. "Jokowi represents himself, while Budi might be seen closely related to Megawati and the PDI-P," Firman said.
Jokowi had been at odds with the PDI-P over several issues, including over a controversial plan to amend the 1945 Constitution that would restore the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) as the highest lawmaking institution in the country. While the PDI-P had been spearheading discussions on the amendments, Jokowi had said he would not support them.
Regardless of Jokowi and Budi's motives, observers believe that their remarks could boost Sandiaga's position for the 2024 presidential election.
The University of Indonesia's Center for Political Studies (Puskapol UI) executive director Aditya Perdana said Jokowi could have made his remark in recognition of Sandiaga's experience in the 2019 election, which positioned him as one of the strongest candidates for the next election.
"Sandiaga had previous experience in mobilizing campaign funds [in the 2019 presidential race] and that is a factor that could be discussed. I think Jokowi noticed that as well," said Aditya.
With Jokowi constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, Aditya said the presidential race in 2024 would be a more open contest, saying that a number of governors could participate in the upcoming race.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil were among the figures touted for the 2024 presidential race.
Indonesia Political Review executive director Ujang Komarudin concurred with Aditya, saying that Jokowi's remark gave a signal to other candidates that the 2024 race could involve more fresh faces entering the national political scene.
"In 2024, when the incumbent leaves, the competitions will open up to new faces," said Ujang, adding that Sandiaga's last run as Prabowo's vice presidential candidate had granted him the political capital should he decide to run again.
However, one big question lingers: What is Prabowo's plan for the next election? Should Prabowo decide to run again in 2024, Sandiaga could seek his path to the presidential seat through another party, Ujang said. (mfp)