It had been speculated for a while, but yesterday the official declaration of Indonesia's presidential candidates and their running mates (the vice-presidential candidates) were presented. In the upcoming election, scheduled for 9 July 2014, Jakarta Governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo will face Prabowo Subianto, former army general and former son-in-law to president Suharto (Indonesia's second president), in a battle for the country's presidential seat. What is there to tell about this battle?
If we can believe the polls that have been published in recent months, then Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, will win the presidential election. Jokowi enjoys widespread popularity as he is regarded a breath of fresh air among the traditional political elite which is known for its oligarchic and corruptive nature. Due to Jokowi's 'pro-people' attitude, his humble background, and the fact that he is one of the few high-positioned Indonesian politicians who dares to stand up against religious intolerance (as well as civil servants' laziness), Jokowi can rely on wide-spread support in Indonesia, and particularly on Java as he is a native to this island (ethnic background plays a large role in the popularity of a candidate). Not without reason, Jokowi has been often compared to Barack Obama before his first term as both men bring a new sense of hope to the country.
In Indonesian presidential elections, a presidential candidate is required to have a running mate (the vice- presidential candidate) to form a fixed inseparable pair in the presidential election. Therefore, the choice of running mate is of high strategic importance. Often we see a mix of a technocrat and a former army general, or, a Javanese and a candidate from Eastern Indonesia. Such a mixed composition is important to attract more votes from certain segments of Indonesian society. Jokowi decided to choose Jusuf Kalla (former Indonesian vice-president, businessman, philanthropist and native to the Eastern Indonesian island of Sulawesi). Similar to Jokowi, Kalla (72 years of age) enjoys widespread popularity and particularly among the non-Muslim and non-Javanese people (although Kalla himself is a Muslim) as he is regarded having a pro-people attitude as well as professionalism. Moreover, he contains ample experience in politics and business. The match Jokowi-Kalla therefore seems solid. Jokowi, who has less experience in governance - particularly on a national scale - can get support from Kalla to push through reforms. Both men are also regarded 'market-friendly' and therefore foreign investors were eager to purchase Indonesian assets - giving rise to a strengthening Jakarta Composite Index as well as rupiah exchange rate - on the day that Jokowi announced that he would run for the presidency (14 March 2014) and on the morning that Kalla was officially declared Jokowi's running mate (19 May 2014).
The Jokowi-Kalla pair is supported by a coalition consisting of PDI-P (winner of the April legislative election), NasDem, PKB and Hanura. A political party or coalition of parties that secure at least 25 percent of the vote in the legislative election is allowed to nominate a presidential and vice-presidential candidate for the presidential election. As the PDI-P only won about 19 percent of the vote, it needed to form a coalition to nominate Jokowi.
The other pair consists of Prabowo Subianto together with his running mate Hatta Rajasa. Subianto is a highly controversial person. Although he comes from a corrupt background (the inner Suharto circle) and has been accused of human rights violations - when he was an army general - in 1998 (Jakarta) and early 1980s (East Timor), he enjoys popularity among the Indonesian people because he is regarded a strong leader (many Indonesians feel that the country currently lacks a strong leader who can push for more social justice and economic growth). Prabowo, a Javanese Muslim with a military background, chose Hatta Rajasa (chairman of the PAN and former Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs) as his running mate. This match is also solid due to the combination of a former army general (regarded as a strong character) and a technocrat, or, a Javanese-Sumatra composition (Rajasa originating from Sumatra). Both men share a populist-nationalist vision and are regarded as less market-friendly, particularly toward foreign businesses.
The Subianto-Rajasa pair is supported by a coalition that consists of Gerinda (Subianto's political vehicle), PAN, PPP, PKS and Golkar. The PAN, PPP and PKS are three Islamic parties (which aim for a larger role of Islam in society and politics). Therefore, this coalition has an Islamic nuance contrary to the other coalition, which can be labeled as a 'seculer-nationalist' coalition.
Golkar can be regarded as the loser of the election. Despite being the second-largest political party in the 2014 legislative election, it failed to form a coalition in which it could support its own candidate. The main problem of the Golkar party is that its current chairman Aburizal Bakrie, who had high ambitions, lacks popularity due to several scandals that are related to companies within the Bakrie Group. Since last year, surveys have shown that Bakrie is not popular among the Indonesian electorate. As such, it is clear that Jokowi and Subianto were not keen to select Bakrie as a vice-presidential candidate as this would have cost them votes. After having had talks with various parties, Golkar eventually joined the Gerindra, PAN, PPP, and PKS coalition (reportedly because Subianto promised Bakrie a high position in the government if Subianto is chosen as president). This decision of Golkar made global investors nervous as it means that the coalition of Subianto is larger than that of Jokowi, and thus increase political uncertainties. However, this is not expected to play a role in the presidential election as the electorate will choose an individual and will be less influenced by political party politics.
The winner of the 2009 legislative election, PD (the party of incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono), decided not to join a coalition. But this decision is also more-or-less forced as other parties were not too keen on partnering with the PD as the latter's popularity has reduced considerably after various corruption cases within the party's ranks emerged in recent years.
According to the latest polls, the Jokowi-Kalla pair is still more popular than the Subianto-Rajasa pair. However, things are never certain in politics, particularly not in Indonesian politics.