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Hot and Heavy Politicking in Pre-Election Indonesia

JAKARTA – Indonesian Democrat Party of Struggle (PDI-P) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri has finally named enigmatic Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo as her party’s presidential candidate, forced to show her hand earlier than she wanted to by the political fallout from Indonesia losing the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

The 76-year-old matriarch chose the Bogor presidential palace and the end of Ramadan to make the announcement, watched over by President Joko Widodo and her two children, House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani and senior PDI-P executive Prananda Prabowo.

A slump in Pranowo’s poll numbers, due to his support for banning Israel from the football tournament and subsequent moves to form a grand coalition around defense minister and presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto, left Megawati with little choice than to end the guessing game or risk being left out in the cold.

She is also believed to have been under pressure from the party rank-and-file, concerned that if she waited any longer she would diminish the chances of PDI-P candidates in the legislative elections, which will be held the same day on February 14 next year.

According to the General Election Commission (KPU) schedule, presidential candidates do not have to be registered until the period between October 19 and November 25, when campaigning will formally begin.

Party insiders had previously said Megawati was waiting until at least June to announce her choice, hoping to extract further concessions from other parties that hope to join the ruling coalition. The loss of the FIFA tournament changed all that. 

Indonesian politics is now expected to go through yet another realignment as parties assess the effects of the declaration and new polling offers another look at how badly Pranowo was hurt by sticking to the party line over the ill-fated football fest, which disappointed millions of fans.

Equally interesting has been the emergence into the limelight of Prananda, 53, first on new billboards where half-sister Puan is missing from a family portrait showing only him, his grandfather and founding president Sukarno and Megawati, and then at the announcement of Pranowo’s candidacy.

As House Speaker, Puan, 49, is probably still in line to take over the PDI-P’s leadership when Megawati finally steps down. But Prananda is head of the party’s elections committee, giving him the power to choose parliamentary candidates – and the loyalty that goes with it.

Pranowo had been topping presidential surveys for the past 18 months before the World Cup fracas saw him falter, losing the lead to Prabowo in an Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) poll and then winning it back only marginally in a subsequent Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) survey.

The question now is whether Prabowo remains determined to make his third bid for the presidency or whether he agrees to be Pranowo’s running mate in what would be a likely unbeatable team to take on opposition candidate Anies Baswedan and his three-party coalition.

Prabowo met with Widodo at his private residence in Solo the day after the Bogor announcement amid reports that he was trying to convince the defense minister and Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) leader to lower his sights and run as Pranowo’s vice president.

Analysts believe Prabowo will reject that idea, seeing his second-ranked Gerindra as being well-placed to lead a third coalition. In his only comment on the issue, Prabowo told reporters: “My party is nominating me as a presidential candidate and my party is quite strong now.”

Now 71, it may be the ex-general’s last chance to fulfill the dream of his father, statesman-economist Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, after seeing his army career derailed by the fall of president Suharto, his former father-in-law, at the height of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Gerindra only needs the National Awakening Party (PKB), the political arm of the mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), to clear the threshold of 20% of parliamentary seats necessary to nominate a candidate. The two parties are already in a loose alliance.

The three other members of Prabowo’s provisional coalition – Golkar, and the United Mandate (PAN) and United Development (PPP) parties — are more likely to side with PDI-P, the country’s biggest party with 128 seats in the current 575-seat parliament.

Without the nomination in his pocket, Pranowo had gone out of his way to show his loyalty to Megawati. But critics – and perhaps voters – worry he is being overly subservient to her and Widodo, whose soaring popularity ensures his endorsement will be a significant factor in the race.

Either way, the spectacle of a bowing Pranowo, clad in a red PDI-P uniform, being anointed with a traditional black peci (cap) by a seated Megawati, with Widodo looking on in a colorful batik, was a telling commentary on the current state of play.

The president is on good terms with both prospective candidates, although analysts suspect that his flirtation with Prabowo has been more about gaining leverage over Megawati, with whom he has always had a difficult relationship.

In that, he appears to have succeeded, but many of his army of followers apparently do not share his enthusiasm for Pranowo, a silver-haired social media star who remains a figure of mystery despite flying high in the polls.

Recently, a Widodo support group known as Jokowi-mania (JokMan) diverted its support from Ganjar to Prabowo after receiving a cold response from the PDI-P leadership and complaining that the governor lacked vision and a sense of purpose.

Made Supriatma, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, notes that Ganjar’s support has also been dwindling among other pro-Widodo groups, with Prabowo winning the most votes at a consultative meeting in Jogjakarta in early February and doing surprisingly well at similar events across Central and East Java.

Unlike Widodo, who relied in his earlier presidential years on a close-knit core of advisers from his hometown of Solo, Pranowo seems to have few obvious allies in political and business circles that would enable him to set clear policies and rule in his own right.

That has led analysts to question whether, as president, he will fall under the influence of the same key figures who have surrounded Widodo during much of his two-term presidency.

In private conversations, Pranowo demonstrates some disquiet about not having any links to the Indonesian military, even though the role of leading generals in the political power equation has undergone a significant decline in recent years.

Meanwhile, similar intrigue attends the inner workings of PDI-P where Puan has often seemed to be to be more preoccupied with the activities of her sibling rival than any serious effort to take on Pranowo as the party’s presidential candidate.

Megawati has given no indication when she might step down from the leadership of a party she has held in an iron grip since it was founded as the family’s resurgent political machine at the birth of Indonesia’s democratic era in 1999.

PDI-P executive council chairman Aria Bima, a four-term Central Java legislator, has said he expects the baton to be passed as early as next year, even arguing that Puan and Prananda have equal rights to the Sukarno crown.

Puan is Sukarno’s granddaughter, the only daughter of businessman-politician Taufiq Kiemas, Megawati’s second husband who served as speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) from 2009 until his death of a heart attack in 2013.

A rock musician in his spare time, Prananda is Megawati’s second son from her first husband, First Lieutenant Surindro Supjarso, 26, who was killed in a plane crash in the mountains of Papua in early 1970, several months after Sukarno’s death and shortly before Prananda was born.

Prananda first appeared on the political stage when he attended the opening of the 2010 PDI-P congress in Bali. He was later included in the party’s management team for 2015-2020 as head of the party’s creative economy sector. He is also said to write many of Megawati’s speeches.

Published profiles describe him as an idealogue with an interest in communications and information technology, but they are short on detail and provide few hints about his political ambitions.

Megawati reportedly has more amicable relations with Prananda, spending several nights at his house each week. Puan, on the other hand, is perceived to be self-entitled and lacking in charisma with few close associates and poll numbers in the 1-2% range.

But analysts note that in a Parliament admittedly shorn of an effective opposition, Puan has pushed through several important pieces of legislation, including the controversial new Criminal Code, which had been debated for decades, and the unprecedented 2022 Omnibus Law aimed at improving the investment climate.

Source : Asia Times