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It was a very exciting afternoon and evening on Friday (09 August 2018), especially for those who follow contemporary Indonesian politics as well as those who love sinetron (Indonesian soap operas) since there occurred plenty of drama. At the end of the day it became clear that two pairs (consisting of a presidential and vice-presidential candidate) will compete in the 2019 presidential election: (1) Joko Widodo and Ma'ruf Amin versus (2) Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno.
While it was already clear that the 2019 presidential election would become another battle between incumbent President Joko Widodo and Gerindra Chairman Prabowo Subianto (both men also competed in the 2014 election, a battle which was narrowly won by Widodo), their choice for vice-presidential candidates was anyone's guess.
In fact, both presidential candidates seemed uncertain who to select in this period of high religious tensions (which flared up due to Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's period as governor of Jakarta). However, the choice for vice-presidential candidate is a crucial one from a strategic point of view and therefore both sides waited until the last moment to announce their running mates, thus giving the opponent little time to make an adjustment.
Around 15:00 pm on Friday (09/08) local media were informed that Widodo would make an announcement (later that afternoon) at restaurant Plataran in Menteng (Central Jakarta). All media institutions rushed to Menteng and witnessed the chairmen of those political parties that support Widodo arrive one by one at the restaurant. When Mahfud MD, former chief justice of Indonesia's Constitutional Court, arrived at the gathering it was immediately assumed that he would be selected as Widodo's running mate. After all, he was among the five top candidates of Widodo and the only one who showed up at the gathering (another possible vice presidential candidate - Airlangga Hartanto - was also present at the gathering but his presence could be explained by the fact that he is the chairman of Golkar, one of Widodo's coalition parties).
Local media (as well as Indonesia Investments) started to report that Mahfud MD would become Widodo's choice. However, there occurred a last-minute change. Images on a local television channel showed Mahfud MD taking a telephone call. Soon after this call, he left the gathering. In an interview that was conducted not much later he told reporters that he was "disappointed" at not being chosen as vice-presidential candidate, after having been instructed to prepare himself for the job. However, he accepted the decision and stated that such last-minute changes are part of politics and "are constitutional". We would not be surprised if Mahfud MD is offered a ministerial seat in Widodo's cabinet if the latter wins the 2019 election.
The exact reason why Mahfud MD was dropped at the last minute remains unclear but it is speculated that several political parties in the Widodo coalition did not approve of him (possibly Golkar, NasDem and PKB).
Just after 18:00 pm Widodo announced that he picked Islamic scholar Ma'ruf Amin. Amin is currently Chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, or MUI) as well as Chairman of the advisory council of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world's largest Islamic organization. Picking a high-profile Islamic leader certainly shores up Widodo's Muslim credentials. Despite being a Muslim himself, Widodo has been (verbally) attacked by hardline Muslim groups on grounds of being “too secular”. Teaming up with Amin should certainly ease such criticism and lead to more support from Muslim circles. After all, the MUI is an institution that is positioned above the country's two biggest Muslim organizations NU and Muhammadiyah.
While religious tensions are expected to ease now Amin has been selected as Widodo's vice presidential candidate, there are doubts whether Amin can contribute to the cabinet in other fields, such as the economy or strategic government infrastructure or social projects. Indeed Amin has a history in Indonesian politics as he has served as Regional House of Representative member, House of Representative member, and was in the Presidential Advisory Council. However, that was decades ago and Indonesian politics have changed rather drastically from those days. Meanwhile, he is not the perfect candidate to represent Indonesia abroad in international events. Amin, born in 1943, is currently 75 years of age and has trouble walking. Meanwhile, it is unclear to us whether his English is fluent. While most vice-presidential candidates in recent elections in Indonesia studied in the USA, Amin has not (but he is clearly fluent in Arabic).
Meanwhile, the choice for an Islamic scholar as vice-presidential candidate implies a setback for secularism as political Islam gains ground (even though the choice for Amin is partly aimed at counterattacking hardline radical groups) and can set a precedent for future elections.
Prabowo Subianto's Drama
Meanwhile, Gerindra announced that Subianto would announce his running mate in the evening on Friday (09/08). Media had to wait for many hours as there emerged big drama in the Subianto coalition after news spread that Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno would be selected by Subianto. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY)'s Democrat Party (PD) immediately retracted its support after it was reported that Uno, who is one of Indonesia's richest businessmen, paid the PAN and PKS parties IDR 500 billion, each, to support his bid for vice presidential candidate. It is also assumed that PD was disappointed because it wanted SBY's son Agus to become Subianto's vice-presidential candidate.
After many hours of debate and negotiations, Subianto announced in the after-hours on Friday (09/08) that Gerindra, PAN and PKS agreed to nominate Subianto and Uno for the 2019 presidential election. While PAN Chairman Zulkifli Hasan was seemingly eager to join the Widodo coalition, his party decided to stay with Subianto (most likely Amien Rais had a big say in this decision).
Meanwhile, PKS Chairman Mohamad Sohibul Iman remarked that Uno leads a modern lifestyle (seemingly implying "fast cars and fast women"; after all there are many reports on Internet about Uno's extramarital love affairs) that completely contradicts the philosophy of PKS, an Islam-based party. However, Iman defended his party's choice by saying Uno is in "the process of spiritualization and Islamization, and is a santri figure (referring to someone who practices a more orthodox version of Islam) in the post-Islamism era." But it surely looks as if PAN and PKS have sold their Islamic principles for a price of IDR 500 billion (approx. USD $35 million).
The advantage of having Uno as vice-presidential candidate is that Gerindra has plenty of funds to buy votes. For example, by offering people in the villages money to renovate their house in exchange for political support. And being much younger than Amin, Uno may be more popular among the younger generations of Indonesians. This is important because there are many millions of first-time voters in the 2019 election.
The disadvantage of Uno is that Subianto cannot use religion as a tactic to gain votes. Meanwhile, considering the speeches that were made yesterday it seems that the Subianto coalition will attack the incumbent government on economic matters, particularly stagnant GDP growth as well as the high amount of poverty and income distribution inequality in Indonesia. Problematically, however, is that Uno is the personification of inequality in Indonesia as he is estimated to have USD $300 million in assets.
A more detailed analysis of the 2019 presidential election will be available in the August 2018 edition of Indonesia Investments monthly research report, to be released in early September.
Poll Indonesia Investments:
Who would you vote for in Indonesia's 2019 presidential election?
Voting possible: -
- Joko Widodo (57.6%)
- Prabowo Subianto (31.9%)
- No opinion (5.7%)
- Someone else (4.8%)
Total amount of votes: 16331