The Jakarta Post
After a bitterly contested election, the meeting between President-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his rival Prabowo Subianto on Saturday, at an MRT station in South Jakarta no less, felt like an underwhelming end to a drawn-out political saga, if not a cruel joke.
The sight of Jokowi and Prabowo casually cracking jokes and trading bear hugs would certainly look jarring especially if placed next to the pictures of some parts of downtown Jakarta burning on May 22. Also, the families of those who perished during the riot would certainly feel cheated now that the political leaders they supported have moved on to other deals.
These people could certainly ask the question: “Why now, when you could actually have struck a deal long before the street protests, drawn out trial at the Constitutional Court and war of words on social media?” Some people were justifiably correct when they said this was Indonesia’s elite-centered politics at its absolute best.
But for the realists in all of us, the close encounter was a political expediency that needed to happen, and it needed to happen very quickly. Every political competition needs closure and every election needs a final conclusion, and we had that conclusion on Sunday.
Only a day after his MRT meeting with Prabowo, Jokowi gave his big speech laying out his plan for the next five years. And in his speech, Jokowi stressed the need for reconciliation as a foundation on which he would launch his
second term in office.
“Acting as opposition is also very noble. Go ahead. As long as that opposition does not create resentment and hatred, much less become coupled with insults and curses,” Jokowi said in his speech. He certainly could not imagine running the government in the next five years while having to deal with hatred and insults.
As a matter of fact, President Jokowi was so concerned that he would have to deal with rancor and division for the next five years that he walked into the Lebak Bulus MRT station and struck a deal on terms that could have not been favorable to him. The fact that the two political leaders met on a fairly neutral ground like an MRT station indicated how much Jokowi as a legitimate winner of the 2019 election has yielded to his rival’s demand. In most cases where Jokowi tried to extract concession from leaders of political parties both within and outside his ruling coalition, he invited them for lunch or dinner at both the State Palace and Bogor Palace.
Last weekend he made an exception for Prabowo. (You can further speculate on how much ground Jokowi has given up to Prabowo by looking at the dishes the two had during a lunch at a food joint at FX Sudirman shopping mall. Jokowi preferred to have pecel, a vegetarian dis, while Prabowo ordered a carnivore favorite, goat satay).
But beyond the symbolism, we must talk about actual Cabinet seats Jokowi is offering to Prabowo’s Gerindra Party politicians, with the sole purpose of weakening opposition at the House of Representatives. Gerindra has won 78 House seats and become the third-largest party in the legislative body. One or two seats in the Cabinet and other nonministerial positions would certainly help Gerindra in terms of logistics for the 2024 general election.
Who would have thought that losing a presidential election could still get Prabowo so much in the short run? His status changed from sore loser who refused to concede until the very last minute to kingmaker who could play a part in deciding the country’s political landscape for the next five years.
Jokowi’s urgent need for political expediency, the short-term goal of bringing about a semblance of political stability for his second term, ironically has given Prabowo a secure foundation to realize his political ambition in 2024, when Jokowi would be barred from seeking reelection, while up-and-coming young politicians will likely face trouble even earning recognition among would-be voters.
In the recent presidential election, Prabowo garnered 68.7 million votes, roughly 44.5 percent of the electorate, a figure that younger politicians like Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan or West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil could only dream about.
In 2024, Prabowo will be at the ripe age of 72, and if he decides to throw his hat in the ring once again, he will not be the oldest politician to have run for president. Ronald Reagan was 73 when he was first sworn in for his second term in 1984, while the current United States President Donald Trump was 70 when voted into power in 2016.
Saturday’s MRT meeting could certainly be seen as Prabowo playing a long game. Just like Boris Johnson, who will certainly be elected the United Kingom’s next prime minister after failing in the first try and seeing all his rivals being steamrolled by the Brexit fight. What Prabowo needs to do now is wait for the coast to be clear and launch an offensive when the time comes.
For Jokowi, the next five years could only be the calm before the real storm.