Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – Megawati Soekarnoputri, the matriarch of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is facing a dilemma in selecting the party's nomination for the 2024 presidential election. The ideal choice would be a candidate who would go on to win the election, take the party to new heights and sustain the reign of the Sukarno dynasty in Indonesian politics.
Alas, she may not find the ideal candidate that would do all three. Torn between protecting the interests of the clan, the party and the nation, Megawati may end up having to sacrifice one or two of these interests. The wrong choice could also mean losing all three.
Her choice boils down to two names: The popular Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and Speaker of the House of Representatives Puan Maharani, her own daughter. Megawati has staved off pressures within the party to announce her decision, sooner rather than later, as two other figures have declared their candidacy and began canvassing support.
PDI-P is the only political party with an automatic right to nominate its presidential and vice-presidential candidates, having more than 20 percent of the House seats. Other parties have to form alliances to meet the threshold to name their candidates. As chair, Megawati made sure that she has the sole power to name the party's candidate. Clearly, she wants to give the ticket to 49-year-old Puan to continue the family tradition of leading the country.
Megawati is the daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno, who reigned from 1945 to 1966, while she was president from 2001 to 2004. At the age of 75, she is facing pressure to step down from the party leadership and make way for a younger leader. Succession in the party is another issue she is struggling with. But this is for later. For now, she has to decide on the party's presidential nomination.
Ganjar should be the obvious choice. The 53-year-old governor consistently ranks in the top three in all surveys of the most-popular public figures for 2024, along with former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. Anies and Prabowo have openly declared their intention to run even if they are not assured of the tickets yet
When Ganjar announced last week that he too was ready to run, he was quickly reprimanded by the PDI-P for defying the party's line of not naming the candidate until Megawati speaks. Also given party disciplinary measures and a final warning was senior PDI-P politician and former Surakarta, Central Java, mayor F.X. Hadi Ruyatmo for speaking up in support of Ganjar's nomination.
To give a sense of "equality and justice", the party this week reprimanded politicians in the House who formed the "Council of Colonels" which openly declared their support for Puan.
Despite enjoying the national stage in her job as House Speaker, Puan has performed poorly in all the surveys, not even making it in the top five of the most popular candidates. The 49-year-old has launched a "safari tour" visiting major political parties, offering the running-mate position in 2024 or seats in the Cabinet in return if they help her win her presidential bid. Last year, her party launched massive advertising and billboard campaigns, but her electability has remained stubbornly low.
Ganjar has by far the better chance of winning and helping the party come out on top again as it did in 2014 and 2019. But giving the ticket to him could mean the end of the Sukarnos' reign in Indonesian politics, as the door would quickly close on Puan. If Ganjar is elected, it is most likely that he would run for a second term in 2029, as is with tradition.
Unless Puan's electability increases significantly in the coming months, Megawati knows that giving the presidential ticket to her would almost certainly lead to disaster for the party, and also for her family dynasty.
Puan's sibling from a different father, 53-year-old Muhamad Prabowo Prananda, has largely kept out of the political limelight, even though he is active in PDI-P. No other descendants of Sukarno are active enough in national politics to be able to take up the family mantle.
There had been suggestions that Megawati may want to withhold naming the party presidential candidate for as long as possible to give Puan the chance to improve her public standing. Formal nominations with the General Elections Commission open on Oct. 19-25 Nov. 2023.
Megawati pulled this trick in 2014, when she decided, wisely, to stand down from the PDI-P nomination just days before nomination closed and gave the ticket to then-Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, who went on to win the election that year and again in 2019. Both times, Jokowi helped carry the party to new heights, after playing the role of opposition in the previous decade.
Megawati refuses to be rushed into making decisions, but time may not be on her side as Anies and Prabowo are already winning support wherever they travel and whenever they appear in public. Any further delay could come at the expense of the PDI-P candidate, whoever that may be, and the party's public standing.
What we've heard
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is in internal turmoil after the party's honorary council handed sanctions against Ganjar, his supporter FX Hadi Rudyatmo, and the so-called colonel council backing Puan Maharani. They were sanctioned for seemingly issuing counterproductive public statements regarding the 2024 presidential election, despite PDI-P Congress giving the party's chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri the mandate to determine the party's presidential candidate.
Ganjar told a source that as a party cadre he must remain loyal to PDI-P and Megawati. However, he did not ignore the support coming from the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB). The problem, said the source, is that Ganjar felt that none of the KIB elite have talked directly with Megawati. The source said Ganjar is optimistic that several people within PDI-P will still support him as a presidential candidate, including secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto and honorary council chairman Komarudin Watubun.
"These sanctions are meant to reduce tensions," said this source.
Another source within PDI-P also looked at Ganjar's electability and its impact on the party. In a number of surveys, if PDI-P endorses Ganjar, the party's electability is estimated to reach 26 percent. However, the problem is that PDI-P's internal circle is reflecting on a 2014 survey with similar results. The survey stated that if PDI-P nominated Jokowi as a presidential candidate, the party's electability could reach 30 percent, but in reality it only gained votes up to 18.95 percent.
"We don't want this to repeat," said the PDI-P official.
Another source also said that Megawati is still in a dilemma regarding the decision to nominate her daughter, Puan, as she might be unable to do it again in 2029 due to her age. Megawati is currently 75 years old. Another factor that is deemed to open up Puan's chances is how the upcoming presidential election will not be followed by incumbent candidates.
"As a result, Megawati still gives Puan opportunities to increase her electability," said this source.