Indonesia Analytical Update: Prabowo to Join 2019 Presidential Race

Indonesia Analytical Update | April 26, 2018
Authors: Kim Yaeger, Artha Sirait, Ian Saccomanno and Jade Hoang 
On April 11, Indonesia’s largest opposition party Gerindra (Gerakan Indonesia Raya or the Great Indonesia Movement Party) officially declared former general Prabowo Subianto as its candidate for the 2019 presidential race.

Indonesia’s Elections Law requires a presidential candidate to obtain the support of a party (or coalition of parties) that won 25 percent of the national vote in the legislative election or control 20 percent of seats in parliament. Gerindra will likely form a coalition to have Prabowo pass the threshold considering it currently holds only 13 percent of the seats and 11.81 percent of the popular vote. Although it has not been confirmed, Indonesian media speculated that Islam-based political parties will throw their support for Prabowo in the coming months. Several representatives from Islam-based parties from Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), National Mandate Party (PAN) were also present at Gerindra’s April 11 conference where Prabowo announced his candidacy. There is no announcement of the vice-presidential candidate at this time.

Prabowo’s candidacy has been widely anticipated for months although the former special forces commander only made the announcement recently. Prabowo previously ran for president and was defeated by the incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in 2014 by a narrow margin.

Prabowo built an image of a populist in touch with voters on issues such as education and inequality. Gerindra, to which Prabowo is chairman and chief patron, is closely aligned with conservative religious groups that are rapidly gaining influence in Indonesia. Religion played a prominent feature in his campaign in the 2014 election and most likely will continue to be. In last year’s Jakarta gubernatorial election, Prabowo played a significant role behind Jakarta’s newly elected Governor Anies Baswedan – Deputy Governor Sandi Uno; who unexpectedly beat Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok).

The 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial campaign incited political and religious tensions in which support for Ahok plunged after an edited video suggesting him mocking a verse from the Quran was circulated. In the end Baswedan won with 58 percent despite Ahok leading in the first round of voting. Baswedan was Jokowi’s campaign manager in Jokowi’s 2014 presidential election and later served as Minister of Education although not for long. There are rumors that Baswedan could be Prabowo’s running mate in the 2019 presidential race. Currently, Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandi Uno serves as the chairman of Prabowo’s vice presidential selection team as of earlier this month.

Gerindra is also slated to campaign on moving away from Chinese economic influence, playing on Indonesians’ anxiety towards China, a major player in the Jokowi administration’s infrastructure agenda. Jokowi’s infrastructure plan itself was the cornerstone of his 2014 election campaign in which he had promised 225 priority infrastructure projects spanning ports, airports, toll roads and railways. Jokowi had previously stated his belief that Indonesia’s development must also include less developed regions outside of Java which has not been the focus of the central government’s attention prior to Jokowi’s era. Although many of the projects are still ongoing and not yet completed, it has been reported that Indonesia’s poorer areas outside of Java are content with the progress.

Under Jokowi’s leadership, Indonesia's macroeconomic situation, though underperforming remains robust. The growth rate is flat but reasonably high while inflation has remained low. The sovereign credit rating has also now been upgraded to investment grade by major rating agencies. In May 2017, S&P Global Ratings raised Indonesia’s credit rating to investment grade, recognizing the government's responsible approach to debt management and its tax amnesty program that earned the government more than $11 billion in revenue. More recently, Moody’s upgraded Indonesia’s sovereign rating citing an increasingly credible and effective policy framework conducive to macroeconomic stability. Indonesia has progressed in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index having climbed 19 places to 72nd from its previous rank of 91st. That aside, consumer spending has been disappointing, which may remain a headwind if political uncertainty grows during the election season. With Indonesia's economic growth currently averaging at 5 percent, Jokowi has fallen short of his campaign promise to boost economic growth to 7 percent, although that has not affected Jokowi’s polling numbers.

Coalition-wise, Jokowi had secured the backing of Golkar, the second largest party after his own PDI-P. In addition, Wiranto’s Hanura; Surya Paloh’s NasDem and two prominent Islamic parties PPP and PKB have also stated their support for Jokowi’s reelection similar to the 2014 coalition. There are rumors of the possibility of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono (former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son); House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo to Chief of Staff Moeldoko as Jokowi’s running mate. Jokowi himself recently stated that it is still too early to make the call.

The official campaign will begin from September 23, 2018 to April 13, 2019. The presidential election will be on April 19, 2019 and inauguration date is expected to be October 20, 2019.

Please click here to access our previous coverage on Approaching Indonesia's 2018 Regional Elections and 2019 General Elections.