Nearly two months after deadly post-election rioting in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, a ride on a newly launched train shared between President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and challenger Prabowo Subianto on Saturday has gotten the electoral saga closer to an end. It is the first time Jokowi and Subianto have publicly met in months, and follows increasing demands from across civil society for the two to bury the electoral hatchet.
Jokowi set the tone for his second and final term in a speech during the past weekend in Bogor, West Java. As promised during the campaign, Indonesia can expect to see much of the same, with a focus on development and infrastructure programs, but renewed emphasis on widening investment and reform of the infamously painful bureaucracy. Speculation over what Subianto could do next is less obvious, with suggestions vice president candidate Sandiaga Uno or other young, promising lawmakers from within his Gerindra Party could be named in the inauguration cabinet.
For supporters of Jokowi, begrudging or otherwise, the weekend meeting has been widely received as the good-enough ending in a dramatic and tense story. The meet was less well received by supporters of the opposition side. Social media lit up with hashtags condemning Subianto for seemingly selling out his opposition to Jokowi and his leadership by riding alongside him, sharing laughs, and recommiting to a tolerant and unified Indonesia.
Crucially, the meeting is being read not only as an effort to reunify the country after the painful and divisive election but also as a wholly transparent effort for Subianto and his Gerindra Party to remain prominent within the political elite. This isn’t surprising. Speculation that Subianto would not run for president at all stalked the challenger until the formal nomination was lodged. Much of this, analysts said, is because Subianto does not personally boast a huge following — or at least certainly not comparable to Jokowi — and the political and financial cost of running another losing battle could be a price too high.
Subianto would presumably be aware that a jovial ride on the newly-launched Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) alongside Jokowi would ignite outrage among the more hardline of his support. Those supporters, particularly in the Alumni 212 alliance of hardline Islamist groups initially established to oust former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, now need to find someone, anyone, to fill the mainstream political role.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post earlier in the week, Charta Politika executive director Yunarto Wijaya pointed to the self-exiled Islamic Defender’s Front leader Rizieq Shihab as the successor. “The fact they switched loyalty to Rizieq Shihab means that, all this time, their support for Prabowo was about their support to their ulema and their racially and religiously charged political agendas,” he said.
Islamic parties fared poorly in parliamentary elections this year, suggesting either a loss of appetite among huge swathes of voters to back religious candidates or, more likely, that more religion in ostensibly secular parties has rendered specifically Islamic parties no longer necessary. For Subianto’s more vocal supporters, this presents a large problem. They have turned their backs on the failed candidate, only to be left scrambling to find a new leader that can at the very least return to Indonesia.
Courting Shihab had been a priority for the Subianto-Uno campaign team, with Subianto visiting the cleric in Saudi Arabia and vowing to allow him to return to Indonesia without fear of prosecution on outstanding pornography charges. Now, Gerindra Party members are suggesting that bringing Shihab home is part of negotiations in joining the governing coalition.
It’s hard to imagine why Jokowi would go for it. The post-election dust has settled, and with a monstrous command of the parliament, thanks to a strong showing of his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and other factional allies, the benefit of welcoming Subianto beyond a show of “unity” does not have a solid case. It certainly does not justify risking his own relatively harmonious presidency to have Shihab return home and, presumably, recommence his campaign to be a thorn in the side of moderate Indonesian politics.