2024 presidential election frontrunner Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto on 22 October named President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s eldest son as his running mate.

  • The decision to have a member of Jokowi’s family on the ticket will likely draw supporters both within and outside of his Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), strengthening Prabowo’s lead.
  • However, Prabowo’s choice is unlikely to lead to a majority win in February, as an energised populist response will be triggered with PDI-P being angered by the Jokowi clan’s defection. 
  • Prabowo’s choice has the potential to backfire if not managed well, as it has also triggered protests from pro-democracy and student groups opposing the perceived nepotism behind the decision.
  • Jokowi effect

    Prabowo, 72, decided to run with Jokowi’s eldest son, Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming, despite the latter being half his age and only having two years of political experience. The choice emerged after the Golkar Party, a Jokowi ally and Prabowo’s former party, on 21 October announced that it recommended Gibran. The recommendation is vital as Golkar, the biggest party in Prabowo’s camp, had previously recommended its chief, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, who has poor electability. 

    Airlangga argued that Gibran, a PDI-P member, is part of Golkar due to his membership in a Golkar youth group. However, Golkar was likely pursuing the “Jokowi effect”. A Golkar politician even suggested that Gibran put “Jokowi” in his name during the campaign. Jokowi is a popular president, viewed as the most pro-people politician in Indonesia since his time as Surakarta mayor (2005-12), being able to garner votes by appealing to the masses with his down-to-earth congeniality. The Jokowi effect led to his 2014 and [2019 presidential wins], and also helped PDI-P remain as the ruling party from 2014. Jokowi supporters, both within and outside of PDI-P, will likely switch their support to Prabowo. They will also likely consider voting for parties in Prabowo’s coalition in the legislative elections, which coincide with the presidential race. 

    Potential backfire

    However, Prabowo is unlikely to secure a majority of votes for a landslide victory on 14 February and cancel the June run-off. PDI-P, incensed by the Jokowi clan’s perceived defection, will likely argue that its own presidential pair is more pro-people than Prabowo’s ticket. PDI-P’s presidential candidate, Ganjar Pranowo, was known for populism when he was Central Java governor (2013-23) and a national legislator (2004-13). His running mate, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mohammad Mahfud, was a former Constitutional Court (MK) judge and comes from humble origins. PDI-P will frame the Prabowo ticket – comprising a former dictator’s son-in-law and the incumbent president’s son – as personifying elitism. Prabowo and Gibran were born well-off and educated overseas, unlike Jokowi, who hails from the slums. 

    Gibran’s ability to run in the presidential race at 36 when the minimum age was 40 has also triggered protests from student groups. They argue that the MK’s 16 October ruling, allowing the minimum age to be overlooked for elected regional leaders, was the work of the court’s chief Anwar Usman, Jokowi’s brother-in-law. The combination of PDI-P’s response and anti-nepotism student rallies will likely spoil the Jokowi effect. If Prabowo fails to manage these issues, including preparing the inexperienced Gibran to handle a debate with law professor Mahfud, his choice will potentially backfire. While the student rallies are unlikely to turn violent, elements from political campaigns can exploit them to create disturbances and smear rivals, posing risks to businesses located near rally sites, especially in the capital Jakarta.

    Waiting game

    For businesses, the election season will be the biggest distraction for a country that should be improving its investment climate. Politicians, even pro-business ones like Prabowo or Jokowi, are likely to ramp up populist and nationalist narratives for the sake of winning votes or a better position in a post-Jokowi era, thereby diminishing the chances of pro-business reform. Taking the side of businesses or looking too friendly to the West or China is a sure-fire way for an Indonesian politician to lose votes.

    Thus, businesses should take a wait-and-see approach until the election drama produces a winner, which might only emerge in the third quarter of 2024, considering that any result from a June vote will likely lead to lawsuits. Whether Prabowo or Pranowo, the winner is likely to switch the personnel that businesses must deal with and usher in a regime change, even though they have both vowed to continue Jokowi’s infrastructure and industrialisation drive. Businesses should watch closely and identify the likely holders of those positions by spotting the people most involved in the campaigns of each candidate.

    This article is based on a research note originally published in Seerist. Find out more about how Seerist’s adaptive artificial intelligence combined with localised geopolitical risk expertise can help you identify, monitor and mitigate risks.

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