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Analysis: Prabowo: The one to beat in 2024, for now

Jakarta Post - May 15, 2023

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto is shaping up as the candidate to beat in the presidential race on Feb. 14, 2024, and is no longer the dark horse of earlier surveys.

With the field narrowing down to three frontrunners, electability surveys put him either in the lead or in second place behind Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo. Prabowo's rise comes mostly at the expense of former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who is now struggling in third place in almost all surveys.

If voters seem to be switching their allegiances, so are the political parties that have the power to nominate candidates. The Golkar Party, currently the second-largest party and which has no strong candidate of its own, is contemplating backing Prabowo's nomination. Other smaller parties are doing their own calculations about which candidate to support, but Prabowo is increasingly becoming an attractive proposition, going by the latest surveys.

Prabowo virtually sealed his nomination on Monday, when the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) announced its support for the defense minister. The Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition (KKIR), formed between PKB and Prabowo's own Gerindra Party, has enough seats in the national legislature to nominate him. This means that whether other parties want to join the KKIR is almost immaterial, and they will be left with deciding between candidates with greater chances at winning or losing

Prabowo also seems to have the tacit support of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. While the President is not the head of any political party, he commands the support of millions of loyal and nonpartisan voters who helped him win the elections in 2014 and 2019, and who will vote for the candidate he endorses. Prabowo said last week that he would not resign as defense minister, even when beginning his presidential campaign; a statement that would not have been possible without clear signals from Jokowi.

Although the President has demonstrated public support for Ganjar, a fellow member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), palace insiders say he is leaning toward Prabowo as the candidate most likely to continue or preserve his presidential legacy after his second and final term ends in 2024.

Surveys predict a two-round presidential election because no candidate is expected to win a clear majority in February, and that Prabowo is likely to clinch one of the slots in the runoff voting. This raises the prospect of Prabowo squaring up against Ganjar in the second round scheduled for July 2024.

Prabowo has openly ruled out pairing with Ganjar on the same ticket, which Jokowi also mooted earlier. The idea emerged when Prabowo was still ranked either second or third in the polls, indicating that he had zero chance of winning the election.

Now that Prabowo is leading the pack, the tables have turned.

What's more

In a speech at an event for retired military veterans in Yogyakarta last week, he acknowledged the critics who said that he would embarrass himself if he went down in history as four-time loser. He ran and lost the presidential races in 2014 and 2019, both times to Jokowi, and he also lost as the running mate of PDI-P chair Megawati Soekarnoputri to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009.

To this, he said that he would never give up, as he was a soldier himself. "Never retreat is the spirit and attitude of the Indonesian Military [TNI]. I come from the TNI. I was guided to build this spirit by [my] seniors in the TNI," said the former general.

TNI members cannot vote, but their families and veterans represent a small but powerful voting bloc that represents the powerful institution. Gerindra is also filled with former TNI officers, which gives an indication of what a Prabowo-led government would look like.Prabowo, or rather Gerindra, has yet to pick a running mate, which is the subject of ongoing negotiations with other parties mulling over whether to support him. PKB chair Muhaimin Iskandar has cast his lot, but being an early supporter does not guarantee him a place by Prabowo. Golkar chair Airlangga Hartarto is also vying for the slot and has stronger bargaining power.

Ganjar and Anies also have not picked their running mates.

The other parties will have to calculate not only whether supporting one candidate will bring them votes in the legislative elections, to be held concurrently with the presidential election, but also whether they are backing the winning horse. Choosing right will give them a foot in the door of the next government, with the possibility of holding Cabinet seats and other key posts. Choosing wrong will condemn them to the opposition for five years until 2029.

Prabowo, Ganjar and Anies are all looking for a running mate who can either attract more votes on election day or contribute campaign funds.

Recently touted names like State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno fall into the latter category. Meanwhile, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD, East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa and the PKB's Muhaimin fall into the former category, as they could win votes in East Java, the most important election battleground.

For Prabowo, picking the right running mate could help him break his losing streak.

What we've heard

Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto is confirmed to run for the president in 2024. The defense minister has been engaging in political communication and reconciliation with several military figures and retired personnel. Among them are high-ranking officers who had dismissed him from the military in 1998, such as Wiranto, Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo, and Agum Gumelar.

According to his close associates, Prabowo arranged and personally chose the senior TNI figures he visited during the Idul Fitri holiday. Prabowo wanted to show the public he had no hard feeling despite their decision to discharge him from the military. "Prabowo received support from the senior figures to run in the 2024 election," said one of the associates.

The source added that Prabowo is also trying to reach out to political parties, apart from wooing support from TNI figures. He has been communicating intensively with Golkar Party leaders such as Aburizal Bakrie and Airlangga Hartarto. They met twice last month alone. Prabowo is said to be seriously exploring the possibility of forming a coalition with Golkar. He has also approached Golkar seniors such as Jusuf Kalla, who is already supporting former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

Prabowo is said to be also preparing the logistics for the election campaign. According to his close associate, Prabowo relies on his businesses in the mining, plantation, and paper processing industry. Prabowo's brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, who runs several businesses, will also support Prabowo's campaign expenses. "The main source of funding for Prabowo's presidential election is still from the family business," he said.

[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/05/13/analysis-prabowo-the-one-to-beat-in-2024-for-now.htm