Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) meets with supporters as he leaves the parliament after meeting New Zealand's prime minister in Wellington on March 19, 2018. Photo: AFP/Marty Melville
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (R) meets with supporters as he leaves the parliament after meeting New Zealand's prime minister in Wellington on March 19, 2018. Photo: AFP/Marty Melville

Barring any last minute changes, Indonesian President Joko Widodo is close to naming Golkar Party chairman and Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto as his running mate in next April’s simultaneous presidential and legislative elections.

Several well-placed sources tell Asia Times that with the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling against incumbent Vice President Jusuf Kalla serving a third term, Widodo has settled on Hartarto, 55, an affable, new-breed politician committed to reforming former president Suharto’s once all-powerful political machine.

The attitude of the president’s own Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri isn’t clear, but the choice of Hartarto would be a solid pointer to Widodo’s reliance on Golkar as a trusted ally in securing a targeted 55% of the vote in 2019.

All this suggests Widodo has dispensed with the idea of a running mate with strong Muslim credentials, confident he has little to fear from the opposition Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) and the sharia-based Justice and Prosperity (PKS) parties using religio-political tactics as a weapon against him.

Both Widodo and Hartarto are Muslims, after all, and the June 27 regional elections in 17 of the 34 provinces showed that playing the Islamic card in the way it was used to oust Jakarta governor Basuki Pranowo, an ethnic-Chinese Christian, will not work to any serious effect on a national stage.

Most analysts believe Gerindra leader and presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto and his advisers would do better to focus on brewing economic issues, many stemming from rising world oil prices, which could prove a far more potent strategy in the run-up to the elections.

Indonesia's Golkar Party chairman and industry minister Airlangga Hartarto in a 2016 file photo. Photo: AFP
Indonesia’s Golkar Party chairman and industry minister Airlangga Hartarto in a 2016 file photo. Photo: AFP

An Australian-educated engineer and son of a respected Suharto-era economic minister, Hartarto was made Golkar chairman last December in place of his disgraced predecessor Setya Novanto, now serving 15 years in jail for masterminding the US$173 million electronic identity card corruption scandal.

Hartarto will now look for Golkar to secure 18% of the vote in 2019, four percentage points higher than what the party has won at the past two elections as new parties like Gerindra and the Democrats have entered the fray.

The possibility of a Widodo-Hartarto ticket emerged in March when they were pictured talking comfortably together in the first of what appears to have been several informal meetings. Asked recently by this reporter over messaging service WhatsApp whether he was in the frame as Widodo’s running mate, Hartarto replied a smiley Emoji followed by a string of zippered faces.

Multiple sources confirm Widodo and Hartarto have been discussing a common ticket, which would guarantee the stability of a future government that was not present at the start of the president’s first term and which he will need for some of the hard decisions that lie ahead.

The only hold-outs from his current ruling coalition are PAN, which ran with Prabowo in 2014 and then deserted him for a single Cabinet seat in mid-2016, and the National Awakening Party (PKB), whose leader Muhaimin Iskander has been accused of pursuing his own personal ambitions.

Indonesia-Prabowo-SEA Games-2011-Wikimedia Commons
Presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto in a file photo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Kalla, a political and religious figure in equal measure, is believed to have been Widodo’s first vice presidential choice. After a shaky start, the two finally reached a measure of common ground that has allowed Widodo room for maneuver. But when the Constitutional Court ruled last week against Kalla’s candidacy, the president was compelled to look elsewhere.

Widodo has every right to be emboldened by the outcomes of recent gubernatorial elections in East, Central and West Java, the country’s three most populous provinces, which together account for nearly half of the country’s 185 million registered voters.

Candidates he can rely on for support won in all three provinces, most importantly in West Java, the largest province surrounding Jakarta, where he suffered his third heaviest defeat to Gerindra rival Prabowo in 2014 and which he wants to win back now that he has the Golkar machinery to call on.

Analysts believe that without then-Golkar leader Aburizal Bakrie on his side, Prabowo would not have won West Java, which is split between conservative Muslims in the south and in Jakarta’s outer suburbs and more religiously tolerant Sundanese voters to the north.

Outside of Central Java, his own PDI-P has proven to be neither reliable nor skilled as a vote-getting machine. Indeed, party leader Megawati almost dropped the ball in 2014 by dithering over Widodo’s candidacy and then failing to get the party behind a man she continued to regard as little more than a party functionary.

At this point, the 2019 presidential election is again shaping up as a re-run of 2014, though a lack of funding and other resources this time around still makes Prabowo a reluctant candidate despite April’s colorful horse-back ceremony where he announced his intention to run.

Then presidential candidate Joko Widodo gestures on arrival at a live nationwide television debate with opponent Prabowo Subianto from Jakarta on July 5, 2014 Photo: AFP/Romeo Gacad
Joko Widodo on the campaign trail at a live nationwide television debate with then opponent Prabowo Subianto, July 5, 2014 Photo: AFP/Romeo Gacad

The latest polling provides him with little encouragement. IndoBarometer, a local pollster, showed in March that he trailed Widodo by 57.8% to 26.6%, with 15.5% undecided. More recently, Central Java voters put Widodo ahead by a whopping 78% to 13%, though in more diverse West Java he only leads by 41.4% to 32.9%, with 16.9% undecided.

With time running out for Prabowo to decide on his running mate before the September deadline, Jakarta has been abuzz with reports that ex-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leader of the 67-seat Democrat Party, has reportedly told Prabowo that his financial problems will be solved if he chooses Yudhoyono’s elder son, Agus Harimurti, 39, as his running mate.

But sources familiar with recent events doubt that will happen, saying the chemistry between the two retired generals has never been cordial and that Yudhoyono’s powerful wife, Kristiani, scion of a blue blood military family, is unlikely to want to risk tarnishing her son’s promising political career.

Harimurti, who left the military to run unsuccessfully in the 2017 Jakarta election, would appeal to millennial voters. But that has to be weighed against his youth and inexperience and, more importantly, the reaction of the PKS and PAN, Prabowo’s two other potential partners.

The same sources rule out any prospect of Prabowo choosing former armed forces chief Gatot Nurmantyo, who has been cultivating the conservative Muslim lobby around the country and reportedly has the financial backing of influential tycoon Tommy Winata.

The presidential candidate’s only documented meeting with the newly retired Nurmantyo did not go well by most accounts and in a recent meeting with a senior government figure Winata reportedly received what amounted to a guarded warning about how he used his money.

Results from the latest round of local elections throw little new light on the 2019 legislative polls. Indeed, the confusing mix of parties supporting local candidates, with PDI-P even joining Gerindra and PKS in two gubernatorial, 16 district and three municipal elections, hardly serves as a bellwether to party fortunes next year.

In any event, a US-German study of comparative election systems shows only 12% of Indonesians profess loyalty to a particular party, compared to 57% in the United States and 84% in Australia. With parties still devoid of policy platforms, there is no escaping the way Indonesia has become an arena for personality politics.

An Indonesian woman casts her vote at a polling station on February 15, 2017.About 100 local elections took place across Indonesia on February 15 but the race in the capital is the most hotly contested, with the top job in Jakarta seen as a stepping stone to victory in the 2019 presidential polls. Photo: AFP / Chaideer Mahyuddin
An Indonesian woman casts her vote at a polling station on February 15, 2017.
Photo: AFP / Chaideer Mahyuddin

As expected, quick-count returns showed PDI-P incumbent governor Ganjar Pranowo winning comfortably in Central Java, Widodo’s home region and long a PDI-P stronghold. But his sole rival, former energy minister Sudirman Said, performed better than the polls predicted against a candidate who remains under a corruption cloud.

Former social affairs minister Khofifah Parawansa, a Widodo loyalist, won a tighter race in her native East Java against incumbent deputy governor Saifullah Yusuf and running mate Puti Guntur, Megawati’s niece, who were supported by Khofifah’s own PKB, PDI-P, Gerindra and PKS.

Kofifah and partner Emil Dardak, 34, a Japan-educated doctoral graduate and former chief of East Java’s coastal Trenggalek district, had the backing of five of PDI-P’s six coalition allies. Dardak, who won his district’s election in 2015 with 76% of the vote, looks to be one of several emerging stars in Indonesian regional politics.

In West Java, where 97% of the 46 million-strong population is Muslim, 10% higher than the national average, former Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil emerged the narrow winner in a crowded four-candidate field, 2-3% ahead of retired general Sudrajat, a one-time ambassador to China, who was backed by Gerindra and PKS.

A US-trained architect with carefully cultivated Muslim credentials, Kamil’s choice of former Tasikmalaya district chief Uu Ruzhanal Ulum as a running mate appears to have taken away from votes from the opposition in the conservative Muslim belt where Prabowo and his PKS allies performed well in 2014.

Kamil, who is known to be close to Widodo, also relied on the support of a four-party coalition that included PKB and PPP, the two Muslim-oriented parties representing the conservative and progressive wings of the mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, which do not often join in a common cause.

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