Why Indonesia’s West Java Election Matters

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Why Indonesia’s West Java Election Matters

The poll is being viewed as an early test of how Jokowi might fare in the general election next year.

On June 27, millions of voters across Indonesia will head to the polls for elections at the governor, mayoral and district head levels. No race commands as much attention and interrogation as West Java, whose incumbent is unable to run again, widening the field as the parties begin looking towards the April 2019 presidential election.

This month’s regional elections have long been seen as a test ahead of next year’s presidential election; no race more so than the West Java gubernatorial. The province is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with a population just shy of 47 million, making it one of the most visible and powerful leadership positions in the country. With an expected 32.8 million eligible voters, how West Java goes often is viewed as how the rest of Java – and in turn the country – will go next year.

Former governor Ahmad Heryawan, who stood down at the start of the month after serving the maximum two terms allowed, held the province for the conservative Islamist party Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) for a decade. As a firm supporter of the Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa ticket in 2014, West Java lurked away from eventual winners Joko Widodo and Jusuf Kalla who lost the province by 4.6 million votes. The Jokowi-Kalla ticket won just four of the province’s regions.

It’s not a problem the Jokowi government expects to encounter next year. Polling firm Indo Barometer last week found the president is sitting on an electibility rating in the province of 33.6 percent, while likely challenger Subianto sits at 22.8 percent. But the General Elections Commission (KPU) is not interested in finding any premature answers, focusing on the election at hand.

Following a candidates debate in Depok, just south of Jakarta, in May, the KPU has established firm guidelines for candidates to ensure local issues are focused on rather than the presidential vote. Referring to a popular anti-Jokowi slogan, PKS candidate Sudrajat suggested that a win for his ticket would ensure a change in president come 2019. The comments were widely condemned, particularly by supporters of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), prompting KPU to intervene.

Still, recent polling shows that the incident may be a whole lot of fuss over not much at all. Sudrajat, despite coming from the same political party incumbent Ahmad Heryawan, only has name recognition among 27 percent of voters, according to Indikator Politik Indonesia polling released this month. Actor-director turned Golkar candidate Deddy Mizwar and running mate Dedi Mulyadi are favorites, the polling firm says, but former Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil cannot be ruled out.

Kamil, running with United Development Party (PPP) alongside Uu Ruzhanul Ulum, announced his bid for the governorship late last year. Ruling out a second term as mayor of capital Bandung, he’s developed a global reputation for Smart City initiatives and using his background in architecture to transform the hip city. But some continue to believe — and rightly so — that there’s a gulf between well-placed profile pieces in European press and securing votes in far flung districts of the province.

The race has been heating up quickly recently amid reports of vandalism and destruction of election materials from the Ridwan Kamil-Uu Ruzhanul Ulum camp. Campaign organizers have been referring the incidents, based around Bandung, Tasikmalaya and Garut but also other areas, to election authorities. But one thing is for sure: as polls get underway with no clear front-runner, this is a race to watch.