The Jakarta Post
Indonesia is preparing for a presidential election in April that will see a rematch of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, who had competed for the country’s top post in the previous election, but the race will not be the same.
Despite offering the same two candidates that voters had seen five years ago, shifting support and new election regulations have altered the political landscape.
Jokowi, who has received credit and criticism for his administration and benefited from his status as the incumbent, has become the stronger candidate, with more support from political parties. Aside from ongoing support from the parties that had supported him in 2014, Jokowi has now secured support from the Golkar Party and the United Development Party (PPP), which were allies of Prabowo in the previous election.
The Gerindra Party chairman, who faced financial issues for his presidential bid and infighting in his camp among political parties vying for the vice-presidential candidacy, eventually picked as his running mate his own party cadre Sandiaga Uno, a former venture capital businessman who was serving as Jakarta deputy governor.
While the move secured his presidential bid, the Prabowo campaign has been struggling since the campaigns kicked off in September with a lack of commitment from his supporting parties, some of which have chosen to focus their energy on campaigns for their own candidates in the legislative elections.
The legislative polls that will be held on the same day as the presidential election forced the political parties on the challenger’s side to think about their own fate should Prabowo’s weak standing result in his defeat.
In December, the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) recorded the electability of Jokowi, who is running with prominent cleric Ma’ruf Amin, at 53 percent, while that of the Prabowo-Sandiaga duo was seen at 31 percent. The figures were barely changed from the results of surveys conducted months earlier.
Given Jokowi’s strong position, observers have predicted that the incumbent would have a smooth ride toward his reelection, but it is worth noting that Prabowo can still turn the tables by exploiting the discontent of conservative Muslims in the country.
In December, thousands of protesters calling themselves the alumni of the 212 rally that jailed former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a close ally of Jokowi, held a reunion gathering at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta, and Prabowo was invited and addressed the crowd.
The gathering, which was supported by the #2019GantiPresiden ( 2019ChangePresident ) movement, drew a large crowd, despite Jokowi’s decision to pick Ma’ruf, a strong supporter of Ahok’s prosecution, as his running mate.
Prabowo and his camp have been strongly criticized for politicizing Islam, a strategy that granted his party victory in the Jakarta election, in which the party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) supported former education minister Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga as governor and deputy governor.
The maneuver, which started in the 2014 presidential election, has been condemned for causing division and polarization in the country, in fundamental contradiction to Prabowo’s patriotic image.
Prabowo’s campaign team chairman Djoko Santoso denied that his team would focus on sectarian issues, saying it would instead focus on economic issues. “What we truly face now is a social gap between the rich and the poor, massive drug trafficking and globalization. Those all are the real threats for this nation,” Djoko said.
Ma’ruf said he and Jokowi would not use sectarian issues in their own campaign, but would clarify issues about religion that were politicized by the rival camp.
“We won’t use identity politics, but we have to make clarifications when [some parties] try to politicize religion,” Ma’ruf said.
Political analyst Ari Nurcahyo from think tank ParaSyndicate said identity politics would still be a dominant issue ahead of the voting day on April 17, yet both campaigns would not directly use it as their platforms.
“There will be certain groups behind them that will play up the issue. Political engines [formally and informally affiliated with] the two camps, including volunteers, will show their real strength,” Ari said.
Throughout 2018, including the first three months of the campaign, candidate supporters have used social media to provoke and influence people. Cofounded by PKS executive Mardani Ali Sera, the #2019GantiPresiden movement had already gained traction before Prabowo’s nomination.
The 212 rally in late 2016 was propelled by outrage of conservative Muslims upon seeing a doctored video of Ahok’s speech in front of Thousands Island residents, which later went viral and was captioned with accusations that the former governor had blasphemed against Quran.
State Islamic University (UIN) political expert Adi Prayitno said that, without no proper handling by the authorities, any spat or movement in social media could turn into a real conflict.
He cited a recent conflict between Jokowi and Prabowo supporters in Sampang, Madura, which left one person dead. The incident started with the victim commenting on the perpetrator’s Facebook status.
“There is always a risk of [social media disputes turning into] real conflicts, because many Indonesians are still irrational and tend to be emotional when it comes to different opinions in politics,” Adi said.
He said many still considered politics a “one way to heaven” issue or a fight between good and evil.
Ari expressed hope that the presidential debates that will begin this month would be a moment for both candidates to explain their vision and mission and avoid sectarian issues.
In such debates, he said, both camps could have healthy discussions on government programs and ways to improve people’s welfare.