Being the governor of a capital city like Jakarta could certainly help Anies Baswedan remain in the limelight, and his strong leadership in the fight against COVID-19, which involved a high-profile squabble with the central government, could have easily won him support from the public.
But a new public opinion poll conducted at the height of the pandemic has shown that Anies has struggled politically, and in terms of electability rating, he is lagging behind his peers in West and Central Java.
Jakarta-based pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia found that Anies' electability rating was down from 12.1 percent in February to 10.4 percent in May. Anies' slump in the polls took place against the backdrop of the trending upward of Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil as potential candidates for the 2024 presidential race.
The electability ratings of Ganjar and Ridwan increased 2.7 percent and 3.9 percent in the May survey. Of the 1,200 people Indikator Politik Indonesia interviewed for the latest opinion poll, 11.8 percent said they would vote for Ganjar if the election were held today, and another 7.7 percent said they would vote for Ridwan.
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Also struggling is defense minister and chairman of the Gerindra Party Prabowo Subianto, who is also expected to run in the 2024 presidential election. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's term will expire in 2024 and he will be barred from seeking reelection.
Prabowo's electability rating has dropped more than eight points in the past months. The Gerindra chairman gets the approval of just 14.1 percent of the respondents, a steep drop from 22.2 percent in February.
In the February survey, both Anies and Prabowo came out as the two strongest contenders for the 2024 presidential election.
Political analysts, however, said it was not the end of the road for Anies.
Indonesia Political Review executive director Ujang Komarudin said the improved electability ratings of governors amid the COVID-19 pandemic tended to be temporary because the latest poll had yet to reflect a stable number and who dominated the headlines.
“Their electability ratings are all below 15 percent. This means that the others still have plenty of time to improve their image and jack up their numbers,” Ujang told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, adding that the Indikator Politik Indonesia survey did not specifically assess how governors were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ujang also said that other factors could be at play in driving down Anies' electability rating. “It’s strange because Anies has received positive responses to his policy in handling the COVID-19 crisis. We need other polls to compare the result,” he said.
Executive director of Indikator Politik Indonesia Burhanuddin Muhtadi said that Anies suffered in the polls due to his tough stance against the central government in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burhanuddin argued that Anies continued to have a hard time wooing supporters of Jokowi from the 2019 presidential election who continued to harbor suspicion against the Jakarta governor. In fact, the perceived discord between Anies and Jokowi could in fact be good news for the other potential candidates.
"Jokowi's supporters think of Anies as a challenger to the central government or Jokowi's policy and vice versa. That’s why the votes from Jokowi's supporters are split between Ganjar and Ridwan,” he said, suggesting that Anies could improve his electability rating if he could expand his base to voters outside of the capital.
As for Prabowo's slumping approval rating, Burhanuddin said his position as defense minister did not give him direct access to policies on handling COVID-19.
“Regional governors who preside over large populations could turn the media spotlight on the way they handle COVID-19 into an electoral incentive because the public now is concerned only with COVID-19,” Burhanuddin said.
Ujang of Indonesia Political Review said that although Prabowo remained on top, it would be better if Gerindra could find another figure to nominate for the 2024 presidential election. So far, only Prabowo himself is ready to run again.
He said that other parties such as Golkar and the Democratic Party should also find new figures to nominate, given that their leaders had suffered in the polls.
"For now, the leaders of these parties have low electability ratings. They have problems with the party and the individuals. Agus [Harimurti Yudhoyono] has no position in the government. It’s difficult to increase his electability. While Airlangga [Hartarto], despite his position as a minister, continues to run into problems like his support for the omnibus bill on job creation,” Ujang said.
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Anies, Ganjar and Ridwan are among the regional leaders who have been in the spotlight over their COVID-19 policies.
Anies, who won backing from the NasDem Party, has heavily criticized Jokowi’s administration several times. For example, when he requested permission to implement large-scale social restrictions in Jakarta in April, he accused the central government of stonewalling his efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus by issuing a ministerial regulation that prevented him from directly imposing stricter measures to limit people’s mobility.
Meanwhile, in Central Java, Ganjar prepared a Heroes Cemetery to bury medical workers who died after handling COVID-19 patients, as some locals were opposed to their bodies being buried near their homes.
Ridwan conducted massive COVID-19 rapid testing and random swab test sampling on commuter lines and at markets in West Java. He also criticized a number of the central government's policies, questioning the validity of its COVID-19 data and its decision to raise Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan) premiums.
On Tuesday, Ganjar, an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician said he would leave the decision to nominate a candidate for the 2024 presidential election to the party central board and that he would only focus on the current COVID-19 situation.
“We will still face the excesses of the [pandemic]; for example, its social and economic aspects," he said.