Made Supriatma – A promising 2024 presidential contender's hopes rest on political forces beyond his control.
The race to Indonesia's 2024 presidential election is moving fast. The field is volatile due to elite political manoeuvres; in particular, one among the top three frontrunners' fortunes might be waning.
There is growing momentum for Anies Baswedan – now the preferred candidate of not just NasDem but also the Islamist Justice and Welfare Party (PKS), the latter announcing its choice on 23 February 2023. His fellow frontrunner Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo is slowing down. The third in the mix is now gaining steam: defence minister Prabowo Subianto recently got a boost from a Jokowi volunteer group called Jokowi-mania (JokMan).
JokMan had supported Ganjar since February 2022 but got a cold response from the prospective candidate and his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). JokMan decided to divert its support to Prabowo. JokMan's leader explained that they were now supporting Prabowo because Ganjar lacked vision and did not seem to be serious in running his campaign.
While recent polls still put Ganjar at the top, his support has waned due to lingering uncertainty. Unlike Anies and Prabowo, Ganjar has no overt support from a major party. It is widely assumed that Ganjar will draw support from two most important secular-nationalist bases in Indonesian politics: Jokowi's followers and PDI-P, of which Ganjar is a long-time cadre.
More worryingly for Ganjar, support from Jokowi's volunteer groups seems to be dwindling. At the People's Consultation meetings (Musyawarah Rakyat, Musra) held by 18 pro-Jokowi volunteer groups (Projo) in various provinces to select their preferred presidential candidate, support for Ganjar was supposed to be unanimous.
However, Prabowo Subianto beat Ganjar in the Musra in Yogyakarta, in early February. In those for Central Java and East Java, even though Ganjar won, Prabowo scored significant votes. Indonesia watchers would know that these are the most populous provinces which Ganjar – or any presidential candidate – cannot afford to lose, even by a slight margin.
There are two major factors that will determine the success of Ganjar's presidential run. The first is the relationship between Jokowi's volunteers and the PDI-P. Even though he is constitutionally blocked from a third presidential term, Jokowi is the most popular politician in Indonesia. Whomever Jokowi's supporters back is likely to push ahead of the others. However, the winning candidate must also reckon with how PDI-P is the only party with the requisite 20 per cent of lower house (DPR) seats to put forward its own presidential candidate without building a coalition.
The chief obstacle is the rivalry from past presidential elections between PDI-P (former president Megawati Sukarnoputri's stronghold) and Jokowi's volunteers. There is no trust between these two core groups of prospective Ganjar supporters. Even worse, there is no clear effort from Ganjar's camp to reconcile these two different bases.
The second factor is Ganjar's relationship with the PDI-P, which is tied to tension between Megawati, PDI-P's chairwoman, and Jokowi. That Megawati is dragging her feet on making a clear choice for Ganjar, given that her daughter Puan Maharani is a potential, albeit weak, candidate, further complicates matters.
On several occasions last year, Jokowi had hinted that he and his supporters will endorse Ganjar as a presidential candidate. Ganjar was seen as the "crown prince", so much so that a coalition of pro-Jokowi elements, the United Indonesian Coalition (Koalisi Indonesia Bersatu, KIB), comprising Golkar, the United Development Party (PPP), and the National Mandate Party (PAN), all showed signs of supporting Ganjar.
Megawati, however, has different views.
At the PDI-P's 50th anniversary celebrations earlier this year, Megawati roasted Jokowi in her speech. She pointedly said that he would not have been able to become president without the PDI-P. Megawati was alluding to her view that as president, Jokowi has not behaved like the "party official" she wanted him to be.
Until now, PDI-P has not announced its support for Ganjar's presidential candidacy. This has left Ganjar, despite his status as a frontrunner in many polls, in a political limbo.
Unlike Jokowi, who joined PDI-P relatively late and as a political neophyte, Ganjar is a stalwart party cadre. He has climbed to power through PDI-P, first as a parliamentarian and then as Central Java Governor.
Yet Ganjar is trapped in the middle between his reliance on Jokowi's supporters and his status as a PDI-P member obliged to toe the party line.
Some anonymous sources from inside PDI-P have hinted that Megawati and PDI-P will eventually support Ganjar. According to them, Megawati believes that by delaying the official announcement on Ganjar's candidacy, she can win more concessions especially from other parties and Jokowi's volunteers. The announcement to endorse Ganjar may come by this June; the presidential nominations must be submitted from 19 October-25 November 2023.
PDI-P seems to be nonchalant about forming a coalition for 2024. This attitude may be explained by a pending case being deliberated by the Constitutional Court over the constitutionality of section 168(2) of Law No. 7 of 2007, Indonesia's Election Law. Six plaintiffs filed a petition challenging the existing open-list proportional system that Indonesia uses to elect its legislative members. PDI-P prefers the previous system, a closed-list proportional system, where voters choose a party instead of a specific candidate. However, eight other parties with DPR seats oppose changes to the open-list proportional system.
If this lawsuit is successful, the PDI-P leadership (read: Megawati) will have the upper hand in determining who sits in the DPR. The number of PDI-P DPR seats could increase significantly if a closed-list system is used in 2024, as such systems tend to favour larger parties. A larger parliamentary seat-share will give PDI-P more leverage against any future president on key bills up for deliberation. Adding a twist to the story, however, is the fact that Jokowi's brother-in-law is the head of the Constitutional Court. The president's views on the closed-list system are unclear.
Megawati and the PDI-P have no incentive to declare Ganjar as their preferred candidate too early. The delay is their bargaining chip, especially against Jokowi and his supporters.
This has arguably left Ganjar trapped in the middle. He cannot afford to lose support from either his party or the president's supporters. But the longer the delay, the worse his forward momentum, as Prabowo and Anies continue to attract more attention and endorsements. In the worst-case scenario, Ganjar may risk losing his candidacy completely.
[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 free-lance journalist.]