THOUGHTS AND COFFEE #13: What to expect for the 2019 Presidential Election

On 9 June 2018, both Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo, the two presidential candidates for the 2019 Election announced their running mates. Prabowo would run alongside Sandiaga Uno, who was until recently the Vice-Governor of Jakarta; while Widodo would run with Ma’aruf Amin, the leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council.

Joko Widodo’s choice baffled many of his supporters. Initially, the most favoured nominee was Mahfud MD, a senior politician, academic, and constitutional judge. However, looking at the bigger picture, Ma’aruf has significant strategic value, especially in a political landscape so dominated by a conservative Islamic narrative. Ma’aruf was the person who led the charge to imprison Ahok (Joko Widodo’s former deputy) through the 212 movement. Ma’aruf is also a highly respected religious figure and is considered capable of handling and garnering the support of more conservative elements of political Islam. Joko Widodo could heavily benefit from this—Ma’aruf could act as an important shield against the opposition’s angle of labelling Joko Widodo as “anti-Islamic”. Similar tactics have repeatedly been used during his 2014 campaign and will most likely intensify after Joko Widodo passed the controversial Mass Organizations bill which declared Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (a hard-line political Islamic party) illegal. It remains to be seen how Joko Widodo will leverage Ma’aruf’s clout in the race.

On the opposing side, Prabowo’s choice of Sandiaga Uno came as a shock to both his supporters and the ruling coalition. There was much speculation that Prabowo would take on Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son) as his running mate, after a series of coalition-building meets between the two. A successful businessman, Sandiaga has had a reputation for proposing entrepreneurship-oriented policies during his tenure as Vice-Governor. This expertise was also a contributing reason for the coalition’s support of Sandiaga. It suggests Prabowo will continue to run on a platform of economic nationalism. With Sandiaga as his mate, he’ll at least be able to put a credible face on his policy proposals. Sandiaga’s youthful appearance is also expected to attract millennials to their campaign.

On a side note, Sandiaga’s sudden jump from the seat of Vice-Governor to Vice-President may be indicative a new political trend we will be seeing in the future, especially in the next Jakarta Gubernatorial Election. It further emphasizes the political significance of the Governor’s seat in Jakarta. In 2014, Joko Widodo saw himself ascend from the Governor position to the presidency. Now, Sandiaga is following the same path. Future opportunists may have already noticed this and maybe crafting plans to secure the next gubernatorial election.

With this information, there are three things to expect from the 2019 Presidential Elections:

  1. The dominant political narrative will be a theatre of piety. Both sides will have to show who can be more pious in a bid to appeal to majority Muslim voters.
  2. Both candidates will have to package their campaign to be as attractive to millennials and Gen Z voters. Joko Widodo has shown expertise in this during his run; Prabowo will likely have to learn from his mistakes during the 2014 run.
  3. Coalition allegiances are still fragile. Expect on-the-fence parties to swing their support either way, thus adding to the uncertainty of the election.

All in all, the 2019 Presidential Elections will no doubt be one of the most polarizing elections the country will see in the 20 years of democratic reforms. There are still many unpredictable variables, such as the possibility of an appearance of a third contender or the effect of these running mate choices on fractures in both coalitions. Furthermore, as both candidates have yet to work on their policy platforms, the trajectory of the election also remains uncertain. What is certain for now is that the old narrative—the belief that Jokowi stands for progress, while Prabowo stands for conservatism—has been turned on its head. Both candidates are acting on political pragmatism. In the end, securing votes is the only thing that matters. 

Header image: Nikkei Asian Review

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