The Jakarta Post
Bidding for his reelection in the April 17 presidential race, the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has focused his attention more on winning the hearts and minds of conservative voters, reflected among other means by his choice of running mate and giving concessions to the military.
Jokowi, a socialist by ideology, squares off with Prabowo Subianto, a former army general, who counts mostly on conservative voters to get him into office. Given society’s increasing trend toward conservatism, both candidates are now scrambling for votes from this segment.
Jokowi’s apparent ideological shift may be more for expediency to ensure victory, but voters from his traditional support base to the left of the political spectrum fear it could have major policy implications for his next administration.
Many have declared through social media memes that they will not vote, making clear they did not endorse the shift, but that they would not give their vote to the challenger who is even further to the right, embracing hard-line Islamic groups.
In the final weeks before polling day, most surveys show Jokowi is ahead by a double-digit margin. One or two surveys say his lead is in the alarming level of a single digit.
Amid growing concern that high absenteeism could turn the election results around, Jokowi’s camp has been campaigning hard in the last few days to get the vote out on voting day.
“Cast your vote and then go on holiday,” Jokowi has been repeatedly telling voters. Others use harsher words to intimidate people to vote, even knowing that voting is voluntary.
Voting day is a national holiday and with Good Friday on April 19, also a national holiday, many people are planning to take an extended holiday, and some are even contemplating leaving town for the entire week. They include disilusionned voters who would have voted for Jokowi.
As things stand at the moment, Jokowi appears to be unbeatable, even more so with his apparent shift to the right. Incumbency confers advantages that Jokowi did not have when he, as Jakarta governor, contested the presidential race for the first time in 2014, also against Prabowo.
This time, Jokowi has a track record to show for while Prabowo does not. His die-hard supporters would argue it is excellent, but for most voters it is good enough; not too disastruous for them to want to replace him. Then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had a lackluster record in 2004-2009, but won by a landslide in his reelection bid in 2009.
On the economy, Jokowi has delivered a yearly growth rate above 5 percent, good enough to sustain the economy, reducing the poverty rate to a historic low, keeping inflation low at 3 to 4 percent and bringing down the unemployment level to 5.6 percent. His universal national healthcare services and 12-year free schooling policies, as well as subsidies for the poor, have endeared him to the poor and the low-middle class. His massive infrastructure programs are beginning to deliver the services that should further facilitate growth in the coming years.
With the candidates racing to be seen as more nationalist, Jokowi is ahead with his “resource nationalism”. During his term, the government acquired a majority stake at PT Freeport Indonesia, which controls the largest gold reserves in the the world in Papua, from American mining giant Freeport McMoran. He ensured Indonesia’s appropriation of the Rokan oil field, Indonesia’s largest, from Chevron Indonesia, and the huge Mahakam gas field from Total Indonesie.
Jokowi’s vision for his second term does not depart much from his current policies. Predictably, he has campaigned for continuity, and for endorsement of his existing policies and vision.
Lacking the track record, Prabowo has struggled to come up with a better alternative. He and his team have ended poking at some of the weaknesses and flaws in Jokowi’s policies, rather than trying to present a real alternative.
Jokowi’s shift to the right of the political spectrum is clearly part of his strategy to win the race, inevitable perhaps, amid increasing conservatism.
His choice of Ma’ruf Amin as running mate upset his traditional supporters who recall that this is the same man who condemned former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, and a close friend of Jokowi, to prison for blasphemy through his testimony in court. Jokowi has retained the services of Yusril Izha Mahendra, who chairs the conservative Islamist Crescent Star Party (PBB), as constitutional law advisor. It was upon Yusril’s advice that Jokowi announced the plan to release Abu Bakar Ba’syir, the mastermind of several terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, in January. Jokowi backtracked after protests at home and abroad.
Jokowi’s decision to increase the retirement age for military officers to 58 years, and then to allow them take up posts in the civil service, raised the specter of the return to the dual function role of the Indonesian Military in both defense and politics, not unlike the Soeharto years.
How far to the right of the political spectrum is Jokowi shifting? Will he be able to resist pressures from Muslim conservatives and the military who want to have more say in his next government?
Almost assured of election victory, Jokowi’s political fate is now very much in the hands of those on the left of the political spectrum. If there are enough of them too angry to vote because of his shift to the right, they could well deliver victory to Prabowo.