The gubernatorial election in Jakarta is shaping up to be a close three-way battle that may influence who will lead Indonesia after current President Joko Widodo leaves office.
A list of candidates for the Feb. 15 election, among the most important in Indonesia, has been finalized. Until recently, it was widely expected that the highly popular incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, 50, would win in a landslide. Yet just before the filing deadline, two high-profile figures joined the race: Anies Baswedan, 47, a former education minister and a famous commentator, and Agus Yudhoyono, 38, a son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a member of the military.
Widodo became known throughout the country as Jakarta’s governor before winning the presidency in 2014, and Indonesia’s political parties are putting as much effort into the gubernatorial campaign as they do for presidential elections. The outcome may have significant implications for the 2019 presidential race, potentially producing a new rising star who could lead the nation post-Widodo.
“It is painful to leave the army, where I worked for more than 15 years, but I’m ready to enter politics,” Agus Yudhoyono told reporters on Sept. 23, which was the deadline for entering the race. As he spoke, his father stood in the back watching.
The younger Yudhoyono, said to have inherited his father’s intelligence, graduated at the top of his class from the national military academy and was seen as a future leader of Indonesia’s armed forces. Urged by people around him to run in the election, however, he decided to do so at the last minute. He made up his mind just past 1 a.m. on Sept. 23 to run on the ticket of the Democratic Party, led by his father. The appearance of the dark horse candidate, whose name had not been floated until a few days ago, surprised Jakartans.
On the same day, the other last-minute candidate, Baswedan, was busy defending his decision to run as a candidate of a party headed by Prabowo Subianto, a contender in the 2014 election with whom he had previously clashed. Baswedan worked for the Widodo campaign during the presidential race and engaged in a fierce battle of words with the Subianto camp at the time.
“It doesn’t matter much on which party’s ticket I run for the election, as long as parties were set up based on the founding spirit of Indonesia as a country,” Baswedan said after joining the gubernatorial race. “Running for the Jakarta election does not mean that I stand against President Joko (Widodo),” he added.
His abrupt crossing of the aisle confounded some citizens. A popular commentator who served as education minister under the Widodo administration until the end of July, his name had long been mentioned as a potential candidate. His vice-gubernatorial running mate is Sandiaga Uno, a well-known business executive.
“We want voters not to choose the governor or the vice governor based on candidates’ religions or races,” Gov. Basuki, also known as Ahok, said after filing his candidacy. As a Christian, Basuki belongs to a minority in Indonesia, where Muslims make up 90% of the population. He is also an ethnic Chinese. He was elected vice governor of the Indonesian capital in 2012 as Widodo’s running mate, and became governor in October 2014, when Widodo became president.
While Basuki has received high marks for his clampdown on corruption and an ability to push ahead with administrative reforms, his straight talk and aggressive behavior have antagonized some Indonesians, who are largely conservative. His remarks on Sept. 23 reflect his acute awareness of this criticism against him.
The election to choose the leader of the Special Capital Region of Jakarta is held once every five years. In principle, gubernatorial and vice gubernatorial candidates, having been endorsed by political parties in the Jakarta assembly, run in pairs. The number of voters in the upcoming election is estimated to exceed 8 million.
The job as Jakarta governor is an important post, with the power to approve infrastructure development projects in the capital, as well as other matters.
The outcome of the upcoming election had initially been considered highly predictable, as the approval rating for Basuki ranged between 70-80%. A national-level executive of the ruling party once said, “Other candidates have little or no chance to beat him.”
The favorable outlook for Basuki began changing in late July, when he gave up his intention to run without affiliating with any political party. Students and other supporters had collected, in a short time since June, more than the 1 million signatures required for an independent candidate to run, and Basuki himself had signaled his intention to run as an independent. At the time, it seemed certain that Indonesia would have a nonaffiliated governor for the first time in its history. Then, however, the major party Golkar, among others, announced that they would support Basuki unconditionally, leading him to turn around and run on party tickets to ensure his victory. The about-face disappointed some citizens.
A forcible eviction of residents for a redevelopment project in northern Jakarta also received a lot of media attention. Basuki also made verbal gaffes, fueling speculation that he might not necessarily be a sure bet. Still, many believed the incumbent, having secured the support of main political parties including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, led by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, was the most likely winner.
Survey results released Sept. 15 by Poltracking, an independent Indonesian research firm, showed that support for the ticket of Basuki and his vice governor, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, was 37.95%, only slightly higher than the 36.38% support for the then-hypothetical candidacy of Baswedan and Uno. The survey underscored that if Baswedan and Uno were to team up, the pair could close in on the Basuki-Hidayat ticket. In response to the small difference in support ratings, political parties rushed to make adjustments. At that time, Baswedan and Uno were seeking to run separately. But in the evening of Sept. 22, they decided to partner with each other.
With all three main candidates backed by political heavyweights such as former presidents and party leaders — Megawati supporting Basuki, Subianto supporting Baswedan, and former President Yudhoyono backing his son Agus, the Jakarta election is turning into a proxy fight among national politicians. The elder Yudhoyono thinks each camp will do its utmost to win the Jakarta election with an eye on the 2019 presidential race. President Widodo, who belongs to Megawati’s party, is considered close to Basuki but said on Sept. 27 he does not support any gubernatorial candidate.
The Jakarta election campaign officially starts at the end of October, following a screening of candidates, giving the contenders and their supporters more than three months to win over voters. With the media reporting the candidates’ every move, their names will inevitably become known throughout the country, as happened to Widodo when he ran for governor.