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Jakarta Post

What you need to know about East Java election

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, June 27, 2018   /   07:58 am
What you need to know about East Java election East Java is widely considered the traditional base of Islamic mass organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and its unofficial political arm, the National Awakening Party (PKB). (ANTARA/Risyal Hidayat)

With a few days to go until voting day, the East Java gubernatorial election is still a dead heat between incumbent Deputy Governor Saifullah "Gus Ipul" Yusuf and former Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa. 

Gus Ipul, who had announced his intention to run early last year, was the early frontrunner, but Khofifah has caught up since her official declaration in November 2017. 

In the months since candidates officially registered for the election, Gus Ipul and Khofifah have traded the lead, according to several polling organizations, making it anyone’s game come June 27.

The lay of the land

East Java is widely considered the traditional base of Islamic mass organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and its unofficial political arm, the National Awakening Party (PKB).

In the 2014 legislative elections, the PKB won 19.61 percent of the vote in the province, while the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) came in second with 18.82 percent. 

The Gerindra Party, the Democratic Party and the Golkar Party also achieved double digits, winning 13.13, 12.5 and 10.22 percent of the vote, respectively.

The parties

Unlike in the West Java and Central Java gubernatorial races, where pro-government coalition parties face off against the opposition trio of Gerindra, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN), the normal alliances have broken down in East Java.

Khofifah is backed by Golkar, the Democratic Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the Hanura Party, the NasDem Party and the PAN, while Gus Ipul has the support of the PDI-P, the PKB, the PKS and Gerindra.

Gerindra had initially tried to field a third candidate, courting Zanubba “Yenny Wahid” Chafsoh, the daughter of former president and PKB founder Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid. Yenny was considered one of the few figures that could match Khofifah and Gus Ipul’s popularity among NU followers, but she declined, citing family considerations.

As a result, Gerindra opted to back Gus Ipul, with party spokesman Andre Rosiade saying the deputy governor had a close relationship with the party. 

The candidates

Both Gus Ipul and Khofifah have long associations with the NU and the PKB and have sought to play up those connections in their campaigns.

Gus Ipul, who won the two previous elections in the deputy governor slot, had originally paired up with the popular Banyuwangi regent and fellow long-time NU member Azwar Anas.

Azwar withdrew from the race in January after several photos allegedly showing him in compromising positions with an unknown woman went viral on social media.

To replace him, the PDI-P called up House of Representatives lawmaker and party member Puti Guntur Soekarno, the niece of party chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.

The pair have made much of their familial connections with East Java icons: Gus Ipul is the great-grandson of early NU leader Bisri Syansuri, while Puti is the granddaughter of East Java native and first president Sukarno.

Khofifah has also long been an active NU member, heading the organization’s women’s chapter, Muslimat, from 2000 to 2005. She joined the PKB shortly after it was formed in 1999 and served as Women’s Empowerment Minister in the cabinet of former president and PKB founder Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.

She also picked a popular young politician with NU bona fides to be her running mate, namely Trenggalek Regent Emil Dardak. 

The Jokowi effect?

Gus Ipul and Khofifah could both reasonably claim to have the endorsement of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo: Gus Ipul has the backing of Jokowi’s PDI-P, while Khofifah was a member of Jokowi’s Cabinet, and reportedly has his personal support. 

PDI-P leadership has tried to emphasize that Jokowi’s loyalties remain with his party’s chosen candidate and downplay the president’s relationship with Khofifah. 

Despite their efforts, Jokowi supporters still seem to be split between the two candidates, with 50.3 percent of them opting for Gus Ipul and 41.7 percent supporting Khofifah, according to a Charta Politika poll conducted in late May.  

Third time lucky for Khofifah?

This will be Khofifah’s third bid for the governorship after losing in 2008 and 2013 to incumbent Governor Soekarwo and Gus Ipul. 

Her participation in the 2013 East Java gubernatorial race was fraught with controversy: The East Java General Elections Commission (KPU) had originally disqualified Khofifah, because she only had support from 14.81 percent of the seats in the regional legislature, falling short of the legally required 15 percent. 

Khofifah and her then-running mate Herman Surjadi Sumawiredja petitioned the General Elections Organizers Ethics Council (DKPP), which found the East Java KPU guilty of failure to maintain impartiality when conducting administrative screening of the ticket and overturned its decision. 

The polls

Both Gus Ipul and Khofifah are leaning heavily on their NU credentials and have effectively split PKB supporters between them. 

The earliest surveys from 2017 had Gus Ipul ahead: A September 2017 survey from the Alvara Research Center put his electability rating at 46.6 percent compared to Khofifah’s 35.9 percent. 

The tide has since turned for Khofifah, with an April poll from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) putting her more than 15 points ahead of Gus Ipul at 53.5 percent compared to his 37.8 percent.

"They are both competing for the same base of voters, and according to the survey, Khofifah actually has a stronger association with the PKB, with 22.6 percent of respondents thinking that the PKB is backing her when they are actually backing Gus Ipul," CSIS executive director Philips J. Vermonte said when the survey was released. 

In the most recent polls, Khofifah’s lead is more modest, with Kompas putting her up by four points, while Charta only has her up by 0.8 points, well within the margin of error. 

“It’s very close and the outcome is likely to be determined by undecided voters on election day,” Yunarto said.