A straight fight to be Indonesia's president

The stage is set for a fierce two-way race in Indonesia's July 9 presidential election, after front runners Joko Widodo, 52, of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Prabowo Subianto, 62, of the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party officially announced their running mates yesterday.

While their vice-presidential picks were no surprise, the Golkar Party added an unexpected twist by formally joining the coalition backing Mr Prabowo instead of Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, whose running mate is Golkar stalwart and former vice-president Jusuf Kalla, 72.

This split guarantees Golkar's presence in the upcoming administration, regardless of who the winner is. Mr Prabowo named as his running mate National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Hatta Rajasa, 60, who resigned as coordinating economic minister last week.

But Mr Prabowo also said he would create a "senior minister" post for Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, to help the president and his No. 2 manage the economy and public welfare, if he should win.

Mr Bakrie said: "Prabowo's firm nature is much needed for national stability, so the people stay calm." Golkar's decision puts to rest hopes that some had harboured of a third presidential ticket pairing Golkar with the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Democrat leaders who met on Sunday voted to back neither front runner, although the final decision was left to key leaders. And few expect the party to endorse either ticket before nominations close at 4pm Jakarta time today, although Dr Yudhoyono was scheduled to meet Mr Prabowo and Mr Hatta at his home last night.

Mr Joko and Mr Kalla filed their papers yesterday, and Mr Prabowo and Mr Hatta will do so today.

An opinion poll by Indikator Politik Indonesia released last week found a Jokowi-Kalla ticket would get 51 per cent of votes against Prabowo-Hatta's 32.4 per cent, with 16.6 per cent undecided or opting not to answer. Mr Joko's numbers have been slipping, while Mr Prabowo's have been rising in recent months.

One reason is that although the PDI-P is heir to founding president Sukarno's Indonesian National Party, Mr Prabowo has portrayed himself as someone who can live up to Sukarno's nationalist ideals better than his rival.

The Jokowi-Kalla pairing was announced at a museum where Sukarno and other nationalists met during the freedom struggle, and the Prabowo-Hatta pairing several hours later outside a mansion Sukarno once lived in.

Mr Joko has insisted on a compact coalition where Cabinet seats are not traded for support, as part of a bid to clean up the political system. "The two of us will bring a movement of change to this country we love," he told supporters yesterday.

Though Mr Kalla is a former Golkar chairman, his candidacy is independent of the party.

Their bid is backed by a four-party coalition that includes the National Awakening Party (PKB), the National Democratic (NasDem) Party and the People's Conscience (Hanura)Party.

On the other hand, Mr Prabowo's bid is backed by a six-party coalition that includes four Islamic parties - PAN, United Development Party (PPP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Crescent Star Party (PBB).

Golkar's move could boost Mr Prabowo's chances, enabling him to tap its powerful grassroots and election machinery, a vote bank in Sumatra and TV networks owned by the Bakrie Group.

But observers say Indonesian voters often break ranks with party leaders, as opinion polls show.

Dr Ali Nurdin of Mathla'ul Anwar University said: "Golkar's move to Gerindra will have some effect, but it won't be significant. There have been numerous cases in local elections where a candidate with backing from the majority of the parties does not win."

Presidential pairings

The presidential election will be a straight fight between Mr Joko Widodo and Mr Prabowo Subianto.

Here is a look at how the parties are aligned:

Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla

Backed by Mr Joko's PDI-P, PKB, NasDem and Hanura.

Prabowo-Hatta Rajasa

Backed by Mr Prabowo's Gerindra, Mr Hatta Rajasa's PAN, as well as the PPP, PKS, PBB and Golkar.

Note: Democratic Party likely to stay neutral and not back any ticket yet


This article was published on May 20 in The Straits Times.

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