Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – Winning votes in East Java, among other key provinces, will be a deciding factor in the upcoming presidential election, as it was in the last two races. Because the province is a stronghold of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Anies Baswedan has turned to National Awakening Party (PKB) leader Muhaimin Iskandar as running mate in the hope of winning this big voting bloc.
As it is crucial to win in East Java, political party alliances have been looking for vice-presidential candidates that can attract NU votes. Apart from Muhaimin, who has close ties to NU, other potential 2024 VP picks include East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa, who heads NU's women wing Muslimat PP; Yenny Wahid, daughter of former president and NU chairman Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid; as well as Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD, who grew up in East Java and also has an NU background.
Anies' decision to join hands with Muhaimin was clearly a maneuver aimed at reining in votes from East Java and the PKB. According to a survey by Kompas' research arm Litbang Kompas, NU and the PKB's shared history allows the latter to enjoy a relatively high electability rate among NU respondents in East Java. Although the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) boasts the highest electability rate in this voting bloc with 32.9 percent, the PKB is runner-up with 18.6 percent, followed by the Gerindra Party at 13.7 percent.
Among the three presidential frontrunners, namely Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra Party and Ganjar Pranowo, who is being nominated by the PDI-P, Anies currently has the lowest electability rate in East Java, as per the Litbang Kompas survey. However, the question remains whether Muhaimin is the right figure to pull in NU votes. Previously, when he mentioned that NU leaders in East Java approved of the Anies-Muhaimin pairing, NU central board (PBNU) chairman Yahya Cholil Staquf immediately denied that the organization had endorsed any presidential or vice-presidential candidates. Prior to that, he also stressed that the PKB was not representative of NU.
Friction among the NU elite is also becoming more apparent. After Yahya reiterated that NU was a religious mass organization and did not partake in practical politics, Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, who is Yahya's brother and once led NU's Ansor youth wing, urged the public to ensure they do not elect a presidential candidate with a divisive history. Many viewed this statement as a dig at Anies, who has been accused of winning the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election by resorting to divisive identity politics.
Muhaimin still has a rocky relationship with NU, which is mainly due to a conflict he had with his uncle, the late Gus Dur. This is why, according to Yenny, her father's loyalists within the PBNU are not fond of Muhaimin, given that they felt he hijacked the PKB from Gus Dur, the party's cofounder, in 2005. Yenny herself is not on friendly terms with Muhaimin.
Swaying the NU vote might have been easier for Muhaimin under the leadership of Said Aqil Siradj's leadership. The former PBNU chief admitted that even though NU should remain neutral in politics, its followers should be inclined to vote for the PKB as the party was born from the Muslim organization.
Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI) executive director Djayadi Hanan is of the opinion that although Muhaimin is affiliated with NU, he will not be able to guarantee the NU vote. Voters who identify themselves with NU are already fragmented and they are more likely to be influenced by local religious leaders at pesantren (Islamic boarding schools).
Moreover, shortly after Muhaimin officially declared he would be running as vice-presidential candidate for the Coalition for Change and Unity (KPP), he was summoned by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) as part of an investigation into a graft case at the Manpower Ministry in 2012, when he served as the manpower and transmigration minister. The case reportedly cost the state around Rp 1 billion. Although the antigraft body denied that the summons was politically driven considering its suspicious timing, it would not be surprising if the move was intentionally aimed at undermining Anies' presidential bid. A silver lining to all of this, however, is if Muhaimin is able to clear his name with the KPK, it would boost his image, especially before a country that is losing faith in its corruption-eradication efforts.
On a separate note, the other presumptive presidential candidates also appear to be looking for an NU-affiliated running mate. Back in August, Ganjar met with Nyai Muhsinah Cholil, the mother of Yaqut and Yahya, sparking speculation that Yaqut could be named Ganjar's running mate.
Despite the NU's calls for neutrality amid party politics, it is no secret that the organization has had a major influence on previous elections. The best example of this was seen during the 2019 presidential election. President Jokowi named NU supreme council leader Ma'ruf Amin his running mate at the last minute in order to secure reelection, claiming votes that might have otherwise gone to Prabowo.
What we've heard
Anies named Muhaimin his running mate in order to secure votes from East Java, which is made up of around 31.4 million voters. A source close to Anies claimed that if PKB cadres and loyalists maintained a solid foothold in East Java, Anies would stand a chance to advance to the second round. This source added that an internal survey conducted by Anies's success team showed that the former governor's popularity among kyai (clerics) of Islamic boarding schools and voters is not very high. Hence, the source said, it is hoped that Muhaimin can help overcome this gap. "Anies only need 25 percent of the votes there based on an internal survey," the source explained.
The battle for East Java was also discussed by Prabowo's success team, especially after Muhaimin left the Great Indonesia Awakening Coalition (KKIR), which is now called the Indonesia Onwards Coalition. After the PKB left, Gerindra secretary-general Ahmad Muzani immediately contacted the ulema and the East Java NU regional management to ensure their support remained with Prabowo. Another strategy Prabowo's team discussed was naming Khofifah either a vice presidential candidate or head of the success team.
For Ganjar, a source in his circle said that they are not too worried about winning over votes in East Java. The source believes that East Java is under control since the PDI-P is still the ruling party in the province. The source added that Ganjar only lost in most of the Madura region and four other regions in the NU strongholds known as Tapal Kuda area in the eastern tip of East Java. "Apart from that, Ganjar's voice is very strong and the PDI-P is also strong there," said the source.
They also said Anies had initially considered picking Agus Harimurti as his running mate might increase his vote share in East Java, albeit not significantly, with potential improvement only in Mataraman, in western East Java. Still, Anies' team continued to count on NU's traditional strongholds, particularly in Pasuruan and Probolinggo. "Choosing Muhaimin shows that Anies also aims to increase [his] vote share in these areas," the associate said.
Other insiders mentioned that Anies could meet his targeted votes in Central Java and East Java if the PKB's political machine performed optimally. In the 2019 elections, the PKB garnered the highest number of votes in East Java and Central Java, at respectively 4.2 million and 2.7 million.
[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.]