Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Jakarta – Indonesia's next presidential election is four years away, but several prominent figures have been gearing up to put out their names as possible candidates, including those serving in the Cabinet of President Joko Widodo.
The 2024 election is attractive to potential contenders because they would not face an incumbent president who would typically have a big political advantage over challengers, observers say.
The Indonesian Constitution limits the presidency to two five-year terms. Mr Joko is currently serving his second and final term.
Mr Joko, popularly called Jokowi at home, came to power in 2014 after his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – Indonesia's sixth president – wrapped up his second term in office.
"It is normal that they start their manoeuvres early, as long as they do not breach conflict of interest protocols if they are ministers or high-ranked public officials," Dr Arie Sujito, who teaches social and political science at the Gadjah Mada University, told The Straits Times. "There won't be an incumbent in the next election, which would mean everyone has an equal chance (of winning)."
Meanwhile, Mr Joko is expected to back a candidate who can best ensure he remains politically relevant after stepping down. A friendly successor could help ensure his reform and development programmes are followed through, observers say.
The most prominent figure in the Cabinet touted as a contender is Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, 68, who was twice defeated as a challenger to Mr Joko and is expected to run for a third time in 2024.
The others have not quite decided whether to run for president or as a running mate, which would automatically grant them the vice-president post should their ticket win.
These include State-Owned Enterprise Minister Erick Thohir, 50; Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, 57, who is also chairman of the country's oldest party Golkar; Domestic Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian, 55; and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, 58.
Outside the Cabinet are three ambitious provincial governors who are also eyeing the top post – 51-year old Anies Baswedan who leads Jakarta, West Java's Ridwan Kamil, 48; and Central Java's Ganjar Pranowo, 51.
Others said to be in the running include Parliament Speaker Puan Maharani, 47, whose grandfather is the country's founding president Sukarno and mother is former president Megawati Sukarnoputri. There is also former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno, 51, who was Mr Prabowo's running mate in the 2019 presidential election.
The Straits Times understands some of these hopefuls have made discreet moves to establish their credentials and build political capital.
Some are preparing biographies for mass public consumption, while others have been rubbing shoulders with an influential opposition group called the 212 Rally Alumni. The group was behind the Dec 2, 2016 rally seeking the prosecution of Mr Joko's political ally, then Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, for alleged blasphemy.
In April, video footage showing a group of Jakarta residents declaring support for Mr Erick to run for president in 2024 made its rounds on social media. The minister's spokesman, Mr Arya Sinulingga, however told ST that his boss had nothing to do with the event or the video.
Surveys conducted by several pollsters early this year and last year showed Mr Prabowo leading the ranks as the potential next president with Jakarta Governor Anies coming in second, according to the Detik.com news site.
Dr Arie, who does not rule out Mr Joko endorsing his former staunch rival Mr Prabowo, said: "Jokowi is testing the waters now, providing the stage to his ministers who have potential, so the public would have ample chance to gauge."
Ms Imelda Sari, a deputy secretary-general of the Democratic Party, noted that Mr Joko has been assigning those who might potentially be his successor high-profile tasks to give them a chance to prove themselves. "Basically, Jokowi blesses everyone who wants to run, so after he completes his term he has no problem with his successor."