Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) may have come out at the top in the last two general elections, but whether it can score a hat-trick in 2024 depends on whether it is fielding a strong presidential candidate who can help it win the votes.
In a speech marking the party's 50th anniversary on Monday, PDI-P chair Megawati Soekarnoputri resisted pressure to name the party's nomination. "Urusan gue [It's my business]," she said it in the crude Jakartan dialect usually used in expressing anger.
Megawati is struggling between naming her daughter Puan Maharani, speaker of the House of Representatives who consistently scores low in all public opinion surveys, and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, who tops all public figures in these surveys. Megawati obviously wants to keep it in the family. Her father Sukarno was Indonesia's first president in 1945-1966, and she herself held the job in 2001-2004. But naming 49-year-old Puan as candidate could be a political suicide. Not only will she almost certainly lose, but PDI-P could also lose its top position, which it has enjoyed since 2014.
In the 2014 and 2019 general elections, PDI-P had Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who, in winning both presidential races, helped strengthen the party's fortunes at the polls. The Jokowi factor will be missing in 2024 as he is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
Opinion polls indicate however that giving the presidential ticket to Ganjar could have the same "Jokowi effect" on PDI-P's election fortunes. And the reverse may also be true. Giving the ticket to Puan could see mass defection at the polling booths and the party would most likely forfeit its top position in 2024.
Megawati may not have disclosed her choice in her speech in Jakarta, attended by thousands of cadres, including Jokowi and Ganjar, as well as Puan, but in lavishing praises on women leaders, including the late Queen Elizabeth and Cleopatra, and by touting gender equality, she hinted that she would be going for a woman candidate.
Puan, with the help of her mother, has a few more months to improve her electability. Unless it dramatically changes however, Megawati may have to give the PDI-P ticket to Ganjar, if only to save the party.
In her speech, Megawati took a shot at other political parties who are trying to recruit PDI-P cadres as their presidential candidates. This is a clear reference to parties that offered Ganjar to run on their ticket. She wants to keep the option of nominating Ganjar for herself until the very last minute in case she has to ditch her daughter.
Formal nominations for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates at the General Elections Commission open in October for about one month. Technically, Megawati does not have to make up her mind until closing on Nov. 25.
Jokowi, who also spoke at the 50th anniversary gathering, assured party cadres that Megawati would be "wise" and "calculative" in making her choice. He should know. He got the PDI-P presidential ticket in 2014 at the last minute before nominations closed after she pulled out of the race when the opinion polls showed she had little chance of winning.
But 75-year-old Megawati has another problem to contend with in the party: When to step down from the chair, while making sure that PDI-P continues the Sukarno tradition. While it is almost certain that the job will go to Puan, it is unclear whether she could sustain support for the party at the general elections.
PDI-P was established in 1972, then called the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), as an amalgamation of the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI), founded by Sukarno in the 1920s, with a smaller nationalist-leftist party and two Christian parties. They were forced to merge during the Soeharto dictatorship to simplify the electoral system into three parties. The other two are the military-backed Golkar and the Islamist United Development Party (PPP).
Megawati only joined the party in the 1990s, but broke away and added the word perjuangan meaning struggle, and hence the four-letter acronym, to distinguish itself from the original PDI, after Indonesia returned to the multi-party system in 1999.
The Sukarno pull-factor has remained strong and it has been effective in winning votes from one general elections to another to keep PDI-P among the top-flight parties. But it was Jokowi's popularity that helped PDI-P secure the number-one ranking in 2014 and 2019.
Some party insiders have suggested that Megawati should consider giving the chair to Jokowi, who, given his popularity, could sustain or even elevate party support at the grassroots level. But doing so could mark the beginning of the end of the Sukarno influence in the country's political landscape.
What we've heard
Sources in PDI-P said Megawati's speech during the party's golden anniversary was composed by her children, Puan Maharani and Pranada Prabowo. Additionally, in preparing the speech Megawati received input from the party's treasurer Olly Dondokambey, Said Abdullah, Bambang Wuryanto, Hasto Kristiyanto and Utut Adianto. "They are a team of seven," the source said.
Megawati did not name any presidential candidate as expected, but she deliberately addressed the issue of female leadership, which the party elite signals Megawati's support for Puan Maharani's presidential bid.
However, some PDI-P figures think Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo still stands a chance as Megawati has not made up her mind related to the party's presidential nominee. The source said Megawati is still looking for the right time to announce the presidential candidate. "The candidate may be disclosed in the middle of this year just before the KPU opens registration for presidential and vice presidential candidates," the source explained.
Regarding the mechanism to select the candidates, the source said Megawati would not follow a specific mechanism, like convention. In several internal party meetings, she underlined her prerogative to name presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The source also said that Megawati does not take opinion surveys seriously in selecting the candidates.