Indonesia’s 2019 Election Heats Up With Vice Presidential Picks

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Indonesia’s 2019 Election Heats Up With Vice Presidential Picks

The choices provided an extraordinarily dramatic start to what will be a closely watched race.

The final week of nominations ahead of Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election had promised to be an exciting one. With both incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and repeat challenger Prabowo Subianto dangling vice presidential picks in front of the Jakarta media scrum, a twist or turn was expected. And the eventual choices last week provided an extraordinarily dramatic start to the race.

Subianto, the former military general who very nearly knocked off Jokowi in the 2014 election, had kept fairly mum on his options aside from Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono. For months, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seemed a sure bet, with the opposition coalition firming behind the pairing.

But the announcement ended up naming Sandiaga Uno, who resigned as vice governor of Jakarta on Friday, as a running mate. That inspired no shortage of conversation and also drew an infuriated response from the Yudhoyono clan.

Uno’s boss, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, had been bandied about as a possible vice presidential pick for Subianto. However, it always seemed unlikely Baswedan would abandon his post as governor before celebrating his first anniversary in October, particularly with Subianto trailing in virtually every poll.

Uno rose quickly in the Gerindra ranks after joining the party in 2015, with shamelessly transparent goals of a career in politics. He quit many of his businesses around this period and campaigned with such gusto that he was the assumed vice governor pick before it had been announced.

The motives behind his political ambition have been a source of contention. Uno has frequently been named among the country’s wealthiest individuals and featured in the 2016 Panama Paper tax scandals – an underexplored thread which has already been yanked by researchers and journalists alike.

Now, he stands accused of having bought his way into the candidacy. The badly embarrassed Yudhoyono vehicle, the Democratic Party, launched a blistering attack on Uno and Gerindra following the announcement. “Sandiaga Uno paid PAN (National Mandate Party) and PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) each IDR500 billion ($35 million) to become their choice for vice president,” Democratic Party Deputy General Andi Arief told reporters.

PAN and PKS have both denied the allegations, but it does play into widely circulated rumors that the Subianto camp has struggled to finance a campaign and the perception of Uno having more money than political clout.

While it is not exactly clear what Uno stands for as a vice presidential candidate – or what he stood for as vice governor, for that matter – the success of his OK-OCE program gives us some idea of what kind of campaign we can expect in the coming months. The program was a local riff off similar job creation and small business support policies we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, with the goal of supporting 200,000 new small businesses and entrepreneurs in Jakarta.

OK-OCE is wildly ambitious, and Uno benefits from the government being less than a year old and thus unable to prove one way or another its success or failure.

Uno has already said he intends to take OK-OCE national. While Jokowi has introduced a string of economic reforms during his tenure and unemployment hovers around 5.1 percent, according to one count by the Central Statistics Agency, jobs and job creation will be a sticky issue.

Fears over “foreigners” (particularly the working class and Chinese) taking jobs is fierce to some degree. The portion of the population responding most vocally to these fears are likely already Subianto supporters – or at the very least, Jokowi detractors – but a policy like OK-OCE casts a much wider net and offers a real alternative.

Meanwhile in Jakarta, the City Council has confirmed it will choose the next vice governor from two names proposed by Baswedan. These names will be chosen from Gerindra and PKS.

Jokowi’s choice of Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate was much more predictable, though, in some circles, no less controversial. Amin comes with religious credentials as head of the powerful Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and General Guide of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and there is little doubt that this factored into his selection. There has been a lingering perception that Jokowi needs to shore up his reputation on this front given the salience of identity politics in Indonesia.

But while that might be a pragmatic choice, progressive voters among Jokowi’s supporters will no doubt be further deflated by the announcement.

Amin waded into the messy 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, declaring Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama blasphemous in an example that reinforced the traction that religious issues continue to have in Indonesia. In some quarters, this was perceived as an endorsement of the vitriol surrounding the now-jailed former governor. Given Amin’s previous comments on minorities, including the LGBT community and the Muslim minority group Ahmadiyya, that assumption is perhaps reasonable.

Still, for Jokowi and his camp, from a strictly political standpoint, if the retention of power means neutralizing the “not Muslim enough” attacks he experienced in 2014, the pairing is a logical one irrespective of those concerns. The extent to which that choice proves prudent will become clearer as we move closer to the polls next year.