Third force emerges in Indonesia’s presidential race
Unlike the English folklore song popularized by American General Douglas MacArthur, outgoing Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla not only has no intention of allowing age to overtake him any time soon, but the old political soldier doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to fade away either.
Legally disqualified from a third term, Kalla, 76, is instead talking about going one step further with former president and Democrat Party leader Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who wants to create a third force to challenge President Joko Widodo and prospective rival Prabowo Subianto in next year’s presidential race.
Perhaps invigorated by the comeback of Malaysia’s 92-year-old prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, Kalla met with the former Indonesian president on June 27 to discuss the possibility of running for the presidency with Yudhoyono’s eldest son, Agus Harimurti, as his running mate. One source close to Yudhoyono says Kalla’s suggestion was made during an informal June 27 social gathering. But he told Asia Times: “We’re open to all options. One is Kalla. We’re exploring all possibilities.”
Faint hope it may be, but mathematically it is possible to carve out a third coalition from among the nine parliamentary parties that would meet the 20% seat threshold needed to nominate a presidential candidate. The presidential and legislative elections will be held simultaneously for the first time, which means the 2019 threshold is based on the results of the 2014 polls, ensuring that coalitions have to be formed before rather than after the elections. That does away with the unseemly horse-trading that inevitably goes on after a national election, allowing the incoming government to get down to business with a minimum of delay. After seeing its popularity take a plunge in 2014 over a string of corruption cases, the fourth-ranked Democrats would have to bring on board at least two other parties to boost the 10.8% of the seats it controls in the 560-seat Parliament.
Of course, with a month to go before the August 4-10 nomination deadline, everything could also be turned on its head if the cash-strapped Prabowo backs out. While he may have already announced his intention to run, it came with the caveat about finding the right partners. “There’s a scramble going on in front of the goal,” says one Indonesian political analyst, using a suitably current World Cup analogy. “But it seems we will have to go into injury time before everything is decided.” Widodo’s advisers told Yudhoyono some months ago that Agus is too young to be considered for the vice presidency. But it isn’t at all clear whether he is in the frame as a partner for Prab-owo, 66, who needs the mo-ney the former president wo-uld potentially bring to the table. Relations between Yudhoyono and Prabowo are not cordial, but as the Democrat Party source put it: “Every party has some psychological or historical baggage that present a barrier to cooperation. But we have to be rational in making a decision.” Unlike in 2014, Prabowo doesn’t have the financial backing of his businessman brother, Hashim Djojokusuma — or, for that matter, any other well-heeled tycoon willing to sign on to a campaign that most analysts are convinced is Widodo’s to lose.Harimurti, 38, left a promising career in the armed forces to run unsuccessfully in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election at the urging of Yudhoyono and his mother, Kristiani, the daughter of legendary special forces general Sarwo Edhi Wibowo.
The decision may have been forced on the family by the disappointing showing of younger son Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, 37, who was replaced as Democrat Party secretary general in May 2015 for unexplained reasons, but remains the party’s parliamentary leader. While Harimurti performed poorly in the 2017 television debates, he was impressive on the stump with his appeal to younger voters. After a two month hiatus away from politics, he is said to have grown in confidence, visiting campuses and building his own image. “He’s getting to know the political idioms and the rhetoric,” says the Democrat source, who has observed him at first hand.
“He’s smart, humble and works hard and is physically very fit. He has his father’s aura, but is much warmer.” With the centrist Democrats still sitting on the fence, where Yudhoyono appears the most comfortable, Prabowo has yet to nail down election alliances with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) or the two other floaters, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the National Awakening Party (PKB). In recent weeks, several PKS and PAN leaders have stated their preference for Jakarta governor Anies Baswaden, 49, in place of Prabowo, with one describing the former education minister as an “extraordinary figure” — not something that is reflected in either his record or his current standing in the polls.
Gerindra and PKS, which together form the existing opposition bloc, just meet the nomination threshold, while PKS would need the support of both PAN and PKB to get over the line. Then-PAN chairman Hatta Rajasa was Prabowo’s running mate in 2014, but after a leadership change in mid-2016 a single Cabinet seat finally tempted the party to join Widodo’s ruling coalition. Asked where PAN stood now, a senior party executive told Asia Times: “Everywhere, but nowhere. Nobody knows.” That’s the same for the PKB. While former social affairs minister Khofifah Parawansa, 53, a senior PKB figure, may have declared herself a Widodo loyalist following her recent victory in the East Java gubernatorial election, party leader Muhaimin Iskander continues to play coy. Muhaiman, 51, has insisted the sixth-ranked PKB will only join PDI-P, Golkar, National Democrat (Nasdem), United Development (PPP) and People’s Conscience (Hanura) parties in the ruling coalition if he is chosen as Widodo’s vice presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, Widodo has his eyes firmly on cementing his position as front-runner, with one poll last March putting his electability at 52.8 %, giving him a commanding lead over Prabowo at 15.4.%.
But as 2014 showed, fortunes can change significantly the closer the country gets to the elections. Although Widodo ally Ridwan Kami wrested the West Java governorship away from the Gerindra-PKS coalition, a recent poll by Saiful Mujadi Research and Consulting (SMRC) shows Widodo trailing by 51% to 40% in a religiously conservative province where the president lost four years ago.
With Golkar party leader Airlangga Hartarto as his prospective running mate, the president will be relying on party to help him stage a comeback in West Java and the eight other provinces of Aceh, West Sumatra, Riau, South Sumatra, Banten, South Kalimantan, West Nusa Ten-ggara, Gorantalo and North Maluku where Prabowo came out on top last time. Widodo is far ahead of his rival in Ce-ntral Java (73%-20%) and Ea-st Java (64%-28%), but holds a narrower lead in the polls taken in a selection of other large provinces like North Sumatra (42%-40%), where an opposition candidate won the governorship, and South Sulawesi (50%-38%).