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The National Awakening Party's ascendancy in East Java: Implications for local and national politics

Fulcrum - April 8, 2024

Wasisto Raharjo Jati and Made Supriatma – The final election results from East Java reveal a silver lining for the second-placed vice-presidential candidate, Muhamin Iskandar. He and his party could still win some in the horse-trading for cabinet positions under the next president.

The results of Indonesia's 2024 general elections (GE) in East Java province reveal a mixed picture when these are analysed against the presidential election (PE) outcome.

Muhaimin Iskandar, Anies Baswedan's running mate, lost the race for vice president. Still, the party he chairs, the National Awakening Party (PKB), emerged victorious in East Java, where it secured a majority of seats in the national (DPR) and provincial parliaments (DPRD). PKB was established to represent the voices of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) adherents (nahdliyyin), so it is no surprise that its electoral success has been attributed to many NU followers "returning home", according to a PKB leader, Marwan Ja'far.

In East Java's GE, Indonesia's second most populous province, PKB held sway in NU's bases, such as Madura, Greater Malang, and the eastern areas of Madura, Arek, and Tapal Kuda.

The two major parties contesting here, PKB and the secular-nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), third-placed PE candidate Ganjar Pranowo's home party, symbolise distinct political orientations.

PKB's political influence has been significantly shaped by its relationship with the NU, Indonesia's largest mass Muslim organisation. Many kyais (clerics) in East Java have refused to participate in managing local NU organisations due to differences with the NU national leadership. A PKB member who is also an NU activist recently noted a shift in this dynamic, saying there was a transition from a "symbiotic" to an "antagonistic" relationship.

PDI-P dominates western and southern East Java, particularly in the so-called Mataraman areas, with cultural affinity with the Islamic Mataram Javanese kingdom centred in Central Java's historic cities of Solo and Yogyakarta. This area is characterised by the strong presence of abangan (nominal Muslims), who since Indonesia's 1955 elections have tended to support secular, leftist and nationalist parties. The opposing group consists of the santri (devout Muslims), who support Islamist parties.

Of East Java's 87 DPR seats up for grabs, PKB had initially secured 18, followed by PDI-P's 16. President-elect Prabowo Subianto's Gerindra scored 14 seats, Golkar 13, the National Democrats (Nasdem) seven, and the Democrat Party (PD) six. The smallest shares were taken by Islamist parties, with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) taking five seats each. The United Development Party (PPP) secured three seats but failed to surpass the four per cent national vote threshold (to get into Parliament) and their seats were thus reallocated to PDI-P.

PDI-P is now the leading party in the DPR, with 19 seats from East Java of 109 national parliamentary seats overall, one seats fewer than its GE2019 haul who obtained 20 seats.

For GE2024, PKB maintained control where NU's influence is strong, such as Tapal Kuda (covering Districts II, III, IV), and gained ground in some regions previously held by PDI-P (Districts V and VIII, in central and western East Java). Some PDI-P votes shifted to Gerindra but PKB was able to compete because it was able to reach NU members who had previously crossed over to other parties.

Meanwhile, PDI-P continued to dominate the Mataraman areas even though it faced close races with Gerindra in urban centres like Surabaya and Sidoarjo (District I). PDI-P was strong in Madura (District XI, with eight seats), traditionally an NU stronghold. In District XI, PDI-P supporters' votes were concentrated on candidate MH Said Abdullah, who received 661,607 votes, the most votes received by a single candidate nationally. A seasoned politician who heads PDI-P's East Java branch, he has represented the same district since 2004 but eclipsed his fellow PDI-P candidates.

The Democrats emerged victorious in District VII, which encompasses former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's hometown, Pacitan. Golkar, which supported Prabowo's campaign, won in District IX along the northwestern coast of East Java, one of its traditional strongholds.

From GE2019 to GE2024, the dynamics of the provincial legislative election were varied, as Table 1 below shows.

Table 1. East Java Provincial Legislative Seats, by descending share

Party SeatsGE 2019 SeatsGE 2024Difference
National Awakening Party (PKB)2527+2
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)2721-6
Democrat Party (PD)1410-4
National Democrats (NasDem)910+1
National Mandate Party (PAN)66 00
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS)46+6
United Development Party (PPP)53-2
Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI)01+1
Crescent and Star Party (PBB)10-1
People's Conscience Party (Hanura)10-1

Authors' compilation from public sources; gainers in bold for GE2024 column

The PE2024 winning pair Prabowo-Gibran secured a landslide victory with 65.18 per cent of East Java's votes, just slightly below the 65.7 per cent garnered by Joko Widodo-Ma'ruf Amin in PE2019. Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar emerged second (17.51 per cent), closely followed by Ganjar-Mahfud MD (17.29 per cent).

Prabowo-Gibran dominated almost all regencies, barring two Madurese regencies, Sampang and Pamekasan, which favoured Anies-Muhaimin. The winners swept the Mataraman and Tapal Kuda areas that were NU strongholds (PKB's voter base). In the santri-dominated regions, Gibran proactively courted NU voters by visiting various pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) and NU kyais.

Notably, Ganjar-Mahfud failed to win in any district. The two districts in Madura siding with Anies-Muhaimin, despite Mahfud hailing from Madura, surprised many observers.

For Anies-Muhaimin, there was a surge in East Java's votes for PKB and its coalition partners, NasDem and PKS, compared to GE2019. PKS added 2 seats to its DPRD allotment and now has six seats. Their coalition secured 43 seats but this lags Gerindra's coalition, which bagged 53 seats in total.

While not all NU members voted for PKB, the party has effectively safeguarded its electoral base and future position in national and provincial politics. The PKB's decision to join the Anies-Muhaimin coalition significantly bolstered this resilience.

PKB's substantial representation in the provincial parliament (that is, the regional people's legislative council, DPRD I), at 27 seats, means the party can field its own gubernatorial candidate. This could pose a challenge for East Java's incumbent governor, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, should she seek re-election in November. She essentially supported Prabowo-Gibran, not Muhaimin, after a pre-election controversy where allegations of corruption were levied against her. PKB could team up with PDI-P to nominate an opposing gubernatorial candidate.

Despite the NU's purported neutrality, NU Secretary-General Saefullah Yusuf, openly encouraged NU members to vote for Prabowo-Gibran. In this sense, NU voters contributing to PKB and Muhaimin's triumph in East Java partly stemmed from mounting discontent among certain kyai with NU's central leadership's perceived lack of impartiality. Muhaimin Iskandar's lineage within NU, as a grandson of its founder KH Hasyim Asyari, ensures his stature within the institution, now enhanced by his party's electoral showing. PKB and Muhaimin now have the option to align with Prabowo-Gibran's new administration and government coalition. If this happens, the prize will be key cabinet positions for the PKB – and perhaps for Muhaimin himself.

[Wasisto Raharjo Jati is a researcher at the Center for Politics in Indonesia's National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Jakarta. Made Supriatma is a Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. Made's research focus is on Indonesian politics, civil-military relations, and ethnic/identity politics and he is also a freelance journalist.]

Source: https://fulcrum.sg/the-national-awakening-partys-ascendancy-in-east-java-implications-for-local-and-national-politics