Indonesia election 2024: Jokowi’s son could run against ruling party’s VP pick as divisions widen

A likely third paring is Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander turned defence minister, who is expected to tap Gibran Rakabuming, Widodo’s eldest son, as his running mate following a controversial court ruling on Monday that opens the way for the 36-year-old to contest in the election.

The PDI-P’s selection of Mahfud as Ganjar’s running mate makes it clear it is trying to attract Muslim voters, particularly among Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest moderate Muslim group with at least 95 million members, said political analyst Firman Noor.

“It was suspected that PDI-P would appoint a figure from Islamic circles, especially from Nahdlatul Ulama. This is to attract the attention of Islamic voters and show that Ganjar, with his nationalist background, is committed to building synergy with Islamic communities, especially the Nahdliyin [NU members],” said Firman, a political researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).

Ganjar Pranowo, presidential candidate of the ruling PDI-P, posing with his running mate, Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin, chief security minister, on Wednesday in Jakarta. Photo: Antara Foto via Reuters

With Mahfud, PDI-P hopes to win in populous provinces of Central and East Java, which has a strong base of NU voters, Firman said. The choice of Mahfud is also PDI-P’s answer to Muhaimin Iskandar, whose party PKB was founded by top NU clerics in 1998.

An internal rift within PKB over the years has divided NU voters, who are no longer as loyal to PKB. A survey by Jakarta-based pollster Litbang Kompas in May found that 22.6 per cent of 1,200 NU respondents said that they would vote for PDI-P at the election instead of PKB, which only garnered the support of 7.4 per cent of respondents.

Ujang Komarudin, a political analyst from Al-Azhar University in Jakarta, said Wednesday’s announcement had made next year’s election “interesting as three camps now have equal power”.

“Mahfud was chosen to divide the NU vote in East Java and increase support for Ganjar. Mahfud also has high qualifications, and he was adored by millennial voters,” Ujang said.

Mahfud, 66, a former lawyer, had served as chief justice of the Constitutional Court from 2008 to 2013. In 2000, he was named minister of defence under then-president Abdurrahman Wahid. He also currently serves as deputy chair of the advisory board of the Indonesian Muslim Scholars Association.

In 2019, Mahfud was seen as a strong candidate to run alongside Widodo, until a last-minute decision saw him replaced by current VP Maruf Amin.

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PDI-P vs Jokowi machinations

In Prabowo’s camp, it is expected that Gibran could use his father’s sky-high approval rating to finally deliver Prabowo the presidency – in his third attempt. Widodo had an 81 per cent approval rating among Indonesian voters, according to a July survey conducted by Jakarta-based pollster Indikator Politik.

The country’s Constitutional Court on Monday ruled that any candidates under the age of 40 who have been elected to regional posts are eligible to run in the 2024 presidential election, paving the way for Gibran to be Prabowo’s running mate. Gibran is the mayor of the city of Surakarta in Central Java, like his father was previously.

Widodo’s critics, including Ahmad Umam of Paramadina, have accused the president of abuse of power following the ruling, saying that the court now functions “like a family court” since its chief justice, Anwar Usman, is Widodo’s brother-in-law.

Analysts said that the prospect of a Prabowo-Gibran link-up will enrage PDI-P, as Gibran is also one of its cadres just like Ganjar. Another PDI-P cadre in the Widodo family is his son-in-law Bobby Nasution, the mayor of Medan city in Sumatra, who is not expected to be involved in the election.

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto is congratulated by Indonesian President Joko Widodo after the swearing-in ceremony in Jakarta in 2019. Photo: Antara Foto via Reuters

The relationship between Widodo’s clan and PDI-P has soured in the past few months due to the president’s reluctance to publicly endorse Ganjar.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, former Indonesian president and PDI-P’s chairwoman, is widely seen to have been cool towards Widodo since 2014, when she had to forgo her chance to run again in the presidential election by giving the PDI-P ticket to Widodo.

Not helping matters is that Kaesang Pangarep, Widodo’s youngest son, is now the chairman of PSI, a party formed in 2019 that does not have a seat in the parliament. As the son of a PDI-P cadre, Kaesang should have joined the ruling party like his father and brother, as Megawati had expected. Kaesang’s membership in a rival party is seen by Megawati as proof of Widodo’s disloyalty to the party, according to analysts.

“This will trigger a war between PDI-P and the Jokowi family because for the umpteenth time, Jokowi is considered to have ignored and betrayed the party,” says Ahmad Khoirul Umam, political science lecturer from Paramadina University in Jakarta, referring to Widodo’s nickname.

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Firman said that Widodo likely sees Prabowo as a more trustworthy ally than Ganjar, particularly in ensuring the continuation of his legacy programmes such as building the US$30 billion new capital in Borneo and the export ban of raw materials including nickel and bauxite.

“In Jokowi’s eyes, the one whose loyalty has been proven is Prabowo, his former enemy who has been repeatedly praising him in public. Jokowi understands that Ganjar is controlled by Megawati, so he cannot fully surrender his trust to Ganjar,” Firman said.

Megawati has alluded to her party’s divisions and stressed that she expected unwavering loyalty from her cadres.

“If you are already a party member, don’t even look at changing parties. That is not a dedication of life. [No matter if you’re a] regent, mayor, governor … you must come to the party office as a party member to take part in party meetings,” Megawati said in a speech on Monday.

At the grassroots level, many PDI-P members are anxious about the party split, said Made Supriatma, a visiting fellow of the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

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“There is an opinion [among PDI-P cadres] that Jokowi is destroying himself by showing greed. They are speculating that Jokowi’s political steps have seriously violated the ethical standards of Indonesian politics,” Made said.

Widodo is expected to use his power as an incumbent president to prop up Prabowo and Gibran, including his large groups of volunteers and business figures in his inner circle, Firman said. Projo, one of Widodo’s largest supporter groups, last week declared its support for Prabowo.

But Widodo’s preference for Prabowo does not mean the outcome of the election is a forgone conclusion.

While losing Widodo’s endorsement may impact Ganjar’s chances at the booth, PDI-P still has a strong base of voters in key regions such as Central Java, East Java, Lampung, Bengkulu, East Kalimantan, and other regions with high numbers of minority voters, Made said.

“They have started to mobilise and launch rallies. They believe that they can win,” he added.

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