Fikri Harish, Jakarta – West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, who has risen to the top in the race for the vice-presidential seat in many recent polls, has officially joined the Golkar Party, paving the way for a possible run in the 2024 elections.
"This is the right moment, as now I'm prepared to serve the public in building Indonesia through a new dimension by joining a political party," said Ridwan explaining his decision to finally join a political party after more than 10 years in politics, at the party headquarters in West Jakarta on Wednesday afternoon.
Sitting next to Golkar chairman Airlangga Hartarto, Ridwan affirmed that he would support the party's decision in campaigning for Airlangga as president, especially now that he has been appointed co-chair of the party's electoral committee and deputy chairman.
Airlangga, however, downplayed suggestions that the party planned to nominate Ridwan as vice president, insisting that such decisions would have to be discussed with Golkar's partners within the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB), the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP).
"On the next step, [whether Ridwan will seek reelection as West Java governor or run for Jakarta governor], we will evaluate together with Pak Emil," said Airlangga, referring to Ridwan's nickname.
The governor has been widely tipped as a contender for the 2024 presidential elections, even though until Wednesday afternoon, he had no political-party affiliation, fueling weeks of rumors and speculation.
When pollster Indikator Politik asked respondents in December to pick one of nine vice-presidential candidates, Ridwan came out as number one choice with 24.1 percent of respondents' votes. Behind him, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno was picked by 14.8 percent of respondents and Democratic Party chairman Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono by 13.6 percent.
Together, Golkar, PAN and the PPP. hold around 25 percent seats in the House of Representatives, enough to field a pair of candidates of their own for the 2024 presidential elections.
The Elections Law stipulates that a party or a coalition of parties is required to secure at least 20 percent of the seats at the House or 25 percent of the popular vote to be eligible to nominate a presidential candidate.
However, with Golkar still intent on nominating Airlangga for president, political researcher Firman Noor of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) sees Ridwan's move to join Golkar as a long-term bet for 2029.
"If Golkar nominates Airlangga, then the running mate can't be from the same party. They at least should pick someone from [another party], the PAN chairman perhaps," Firman told The Jakarta Post.
He suspects that Ridwan's goal in joining Golkar is to aim for a ministerial position, if the KIB wins the election, and prepare for a run in 2029.
"I think he realized that as West Java governor, his influence still hasn't reached other regions, and he concluded that a seat in the Cabinet might give him the opportunity to do so," explained Firman.
Previously, Ridwan was also rumored to have considered joining Golkar's coalition partner, PAN. But that party's deputy chairman Viva Yoga welcomed the decision, claiming that it was natural for a politician to join a political party.
"Even though he's now a part of Golkar, PAN considers Kang Emil as a brother in arms with the same nationalist commitment. And since Golkar and PAN are both part of the KIB, this means that there's no distance or gap between PAN and Kang Emil", said Viva in a written statement sent to the Post.
Social media sphere
Ridwan, an architect by trade, burst onto the political scene in 2013, when he won the mayoralty of the West Java provincial capital of Bandung by securing a 27-percent lead.
He continued the upward trajectory by securing the top seat in the province by winning the 2018 gubernatorial election, albeit by a smaller margin.
Ridwan is widely known for his light-hearted online persona and witty engagement with netizens on social media, where he regularly posts to his millions of followers.
It is Ridwan's approachable personality that has helped his electability skyrocket in recent polls, analysts say.
However, earlier this month, Ridwan received much criticism over the recently inaugurated Al Jabbar Grand Mosque, which he also personally designed.
He was involved in an online debate over the mosque's funding, which snowballed into a wider criticism of his failure to develop the province's public transportation network.
The grand mosque, which had been in the works since 2017 during the governorship of Ridwan's immediate predecessor, Ahmad Heryawan, was inaugurated on Dec. 30, 2022.
While the mosque has been drawing thousands of visitors in the past weeks, criticism has also been swift, with many on social media questioning Ridwan's decision to use the regional budget (APBD) for the house of worship instead for more pressing issues, such as transportation and housing.