In pursuit of VP candidates for Indonesia’s election: experts share their views

Vice-presidential candidates could make or break presidential candidates’ chances of winning the 2019 election. www.shutterstock.com

In pursuit of VP candidates for Indonesia’s election: experts share their views

The guessing game about vice-presidential (VP) candidates in Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election may end soon.

Indonesians can expect to learn the names of the candidates for the country’s second-most-powerful (wo)man on August 10.

Two weeks out from the formal announcement deadline, speculation is rife about the running mates for incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subiantoro, who are set to compete again in the 2019 election.

Jokowi’s camp has hinted at their final decision by sharing a group photo of him with his coalition party leaders. This followed a meeting that reportedly discussed the VP candidates.

Prabowo has had a closed meeting with Democratic Party chairman Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) on the possibility of a coalition to contest the election. This meeting ends the prospect of a third coalition contesting the election. SBY’s party had talked of nominating a third pair against Jokowi and Prabowo.

But the names of their VP candidates remain a mystery.

Our panel of political pundits share their analysis of the topic during The Conversation Indonesia’s bi-monthly discussion, “Hear the Experts”, earlier this month.

Solid co-branding

Nyarwi Ahmad of Gadjah Mada University said VP candidates could make or break the presidential candidates’ chances of winning.

He said the best VP candidates must have a complementary political branding to boost the presidential candidates’ standing.

“If the co-branding (between the presidential and vice-presidential candidates) is not solid, the result would not be optimal,” he said.

Jokowi built his reputation as a technocrat and populist leader with strong nationalism. Nyarwi argued that this meant he should find a partner with either a strong image among Muslim voters or the expertise to solve the country’s economic problems.

These options would be expected to help Jokowi with his two biggest challenges.

Jokowi is unpopular among Muslim voters due to his authoritarian approach to Muslim conservatives.

Last year, the government issued a law that disbanded organisations it deems not aligned to the state ideology Pancasila, which supports pluralism. Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) was the first victim of the law.

The economic problems range from the weakening of rupiah against the US dollar to the lower-than-expected growth of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP). This leaves Jokowi with plenty of homework to do.

So far, Jokowi’s strong VP candidates seem to match his need to respond these two challenges.

To sway Muslim voters, names of candidates like Muhaimin Iskandar, from National Awakeneng Party (PKB), or United Development Party (PPP) chairman Muhammad Romahurmuziy have circulated in the media.

To tackle the country’s economic issues, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti are strong contenders.

For Prabowo, Nyarwi argued he might need a partner to boost his political brand as a national populist figure.

“Prabowo’s background, which is close with New Order’s dictatorship, has made it difficult for him to establish such a brand. Therefore, he needs a partner who is a technocrat and popular among not only Muslims but also middle-class people.”

“For now, (Jakarta governor) Anies Baswedan is his best candidate,” Nyarwi said.

Political party play

The Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) executive director Titi Anggraini also acknowledges the key role of vice-presidential candidates in determining the election winner.

“Vice-presidential candidates become important as they can attract more voters,” she said.

The role of vice president has changed in Indonesian politics.

In the past, the position was an accessory to the president’s administration. During the administrations of Soekarno and Suharto’s New Order regime, vice presidents just complemented their presidents’ dominant rule.

Things were different after the reform era. VP candidates can now play a key role in securing more votes.

Abdurrahman Wahid became president in 1999 as his running mate, Megawati Soekarnoputri, was supported by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). PDIP won the general election by securing 33% of votes.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won the 2004 presidential election as his running mate, Jusuf Kalla from South Sulawesi, attracted voters from outside Java.

“So it is natural for political parties to have interest in the VP nomination, because of the VP’s potential in securing additional votes for the presidential candidate,” Titi said.

As both presidential candidates run with the support of coalitions, political parties have been competing to offer different VP candidates to secure power for the next five years.

Aside from PKB and PPP, Jokowi has received an offer from Golkar to pair with that party’s chairman, Airlangga Hartarto, who is also the Industry Minister.

Prabowo is facing the same dilemma in choosing from among his coalition partners. The National Mandate Party (PAN) and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) have been offering names for VP candidates.

It has been reported that Jokowi is likely to pick a non-political figure as his running mate to prevent conflict among his coalition member parties.

Learning from regional election

Learning from the recent regional election, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) researcher Arya Fernandes said voters had become more mature and their taste for a leader had changed.

This change may serve as a hint for the choice of VP candidates.

Arya said voters started to consider candidates with no connection to political parties.

“The new generation of voters are more keen on professionals with a clear track record than politicians,” he said.

The regional election also showed that political dynasties no longer ruled. Candidates from South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Sulawesi lost despite family connections with incumbents. This may sound a warning for the Democratic Party, which plans to name SBY’s son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, as a potential candidate.

Arya also noted that voters were no longer interested in religious and ethnic issues.

Voters responded positively to candidates with different religions and ethnic backgrounds. This happened in Central Kalimantan, Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara.

“The voters have become more mature and their (political) choice is no longer based on psychological and emotional factors,” he said.


Bimo Alim has contributed to this article.