Indonesia's 2019 presidential election is likely to become another battle between incumbent President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and Gerindra party Chairman Prabowo Subianto. Both men had already been engaged in a fierce contest in 2014, one that was only narrowly won by Jokowi. On Wednesday evening (11/04) Subianto formally accepted the mandate of the Gerindra party to compete as presidential candidate in the 2019 presidential election (scheduled for 17 April 2019).
Although most opinion polls indicate a significant lead of Widodo over Subianto (hence seemingly implying an easy victory for Widodo in the 2019 election), the battle may become just as tight as in 2014, especially given there are a lot of (social) forces at play in Indonesia at the moment. Meanwhile, the exit of Great Britain from the European Union (the so-called Brexit) and the Donald Trump victory in the 2016 US presidential election were also great examples of how the consensus of predictions can turn out to be wrong.
Moreover, there exists a high percentage of swing voters in Indonesia due to Indonesians' low party identification. This can cause unpredictable results as voters tend to shift their support easily from one party to the next. Therefore, surprises are more than possible.
Some voters may also be disappointed that Widodo failed to push Indonesia's economic growth rate toward a level of 7 percent (y/y) as he had promised during his 2014 presidential campaign. Indonesia's economic growth has remained sluggishly around the 5 percent (y/y) level over the past couple of years due to the challenging external environment as well as subdued domestic household consumption. Widodo did implement many necessary reforms (including slashing energy subsidies and opening room for foreign direct investment) as well as introducing a heavy focus on infrastructure development.
Although these reforms will strengthen the Indonesian economy on the long term (if these policies are continued in the future), they require time before their positive economic and social impacts are felt (for example through the multiplier effect). Not all Indonesians are expected to be prepared to wait for such future fruits. Moreover, some actually fear rising foreign investment in Indonesia. Political opponents of the Widodo administration can easily incite fears about "foreigners taking over the country". A great example of this was seen last month when Subianto made a speech in which he stated that Indonesia will be dissolved by 2030 due to foreign influences. Although he said his source was an academical study, he actually quoted an event from a science-fiction novel named "Ghost Fleet".
According to Indonesian law, a presidential candidate needs to obtain the support of a party (or combination of parties) that won 25 percent of the national vote in the legislative election (for the first time in Indonesian history to be held on the same day as the presidential election) or control 20 percent of seats in parliament. Hence, it is likely that Gerindra will need to form a coalition to have Subianto pass the threshold. Although it has not been confirmed, it is highly likely that Islam-based political parties Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, or KPS) and National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, or PAN) will join Gerindra by throwing their support behind Subianto. Officials of PKS and PAN were present at a Gerindra event (the party's national coordinating meeting) on Wednesday (11/04) where Subianto was also seen riding a horse. Several hours later Subianto would formally accept the mandate of the Gerindra party to compete in the 2019 presidential election.
Meanwhile, Widodo is yet to comment on his own participation in the 2019 presidential election although the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) had already named him its presidential candidate back in February 2018. Reportedly, Widodo can also rely on the backing of Golkar, Nasdem, PPP, Hanura, Perindo, PSI and PKPI for his run in the 2019 election. Considering the legislative and presidential elections will - for the very first time - be held on the same day, parties have to inform their presidential candidates to the public before the legislative election.
Read also: Overview of Indonesia's Political System
Then there is also the question of who will become the vice-presidential candidates for the 2019 election. In Indonesia the presidential and vice-presidential candidates run as a fixed, inseparable pair. For now this remains a topic of debate and speculation. In the first half of August 2018 all candidates need to be registered at the General Elections Commission (in Indonesian: Komisi Pemilihan Umum, or KPU).
We expect the battle between Widodo and Subianto to become a tough one, despite the former's lead in the opinion polls. Given Widodo's lead, Subianto is expected to use even more aggressive speech once the campaigning period starts on 23 September 2018 in an effort to gain popularity, particularly among the nationalists and hardline Muslims (or, more precisely, turn moderates into hardliners). Surely this is going to make investors nervous.
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