The 2024 presidential race frontrunner Prabowo Subianto was dealt a blow on 2 September after an ally was unveiled as the dark horse candidate’s running mate. We examine the impact this will have on the race and Prabowo’s chances of winning.
Up and down
Defence Minister Prabowo’s third attempt at clinching the presidency, which was the goal behind the founding of his Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) in 2008, experienced ups and downs in a matter of weeks. He received endorsements from two parties in mid-August, the pro-business Golkar Party and the National Mandate Party (PAN), which represents urban and non-Java pockets of Muslim voters. This translates into him having the support of almost half of Indonesia’s parliament. However, that windfall turned into a headwind as the new supporters threatened Iskandar’s ambition of becoming vice president. Iskandar was the first to endorse Prabowo, outside of his own party. His anxiety peaked when Prabowo on 28 August changed the name of the alliance, which first merged the monikers of PKB and Gerindra, into “Onward Indonesia”. This stressed that all four parties are part of the current cabinet, which bears the same name, and that they vowed to continue popular President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo's policies. Jokowi is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in 2024.
After a rush of manoeuvers, Iskandar ditched the Gerindra-PKB alliance that had supported Prabowo since the announcement of his candidacy in August 2022 and joined dark horse presidential candidate Anies Baswedan’s ticket. Baswedan became Jakarta governor in 2017, using funding from Prabowo. Baswedan and Iskandar, both beneficiaries of the Prabowo bank, on 2 September became the first completed pair of the 2024 presidential elections, and a force that has now upended their former benefactor’s ultimate quest.
Prabowo enticed the PKB early in the game, as the party represents voters connected to the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – the country’s biggest Islamic organisation. The moderate NU has a strong pull among Muslims in the populous provinces of Central and East Java (a combined electorate of 60m, or 30% of the national vote). All past winners of Indonesia’s direct presidential elections, which started in 2004, carried these two provinces. In contrast, Prabowo lost both provinces in the 2014 and 2019 races to Central Java native Jokowi, who had the support of the PKB, which is exceptionally strong in East Java where the NU was founded. However, Prabowo took his time in completing his ticket, showing that the general wants East Java but not former student activist Iskandar.
Iskandar, a deputy speaker of the People’s Representative Council (DPR, main branch of parliament) and a former manpower minister who is known for his guile, called Prabowo’s bluff. Baswedan launched his ticket in the East Java capital of Surabaya in front of an NU-heavy crowd to underline how Iskandar is jazzing up the race. Without the PKB, Prabowo is back to the drawing board, with only strong finances, influence in the most populous province of West Java, pro-business allies (ingredients he already had in his failed 2014 and 2019 campaigns) and without control of Central and East Java. If he fails to find a partner who can help him win votes in those key provinces, it will be strike three for his presidential dream. That person must also have strong Islamic credentials to balance Prabowo’s minority family background. A Muslim from a mostly Christian family, Prabowo only won votes from pro-majoritarian Muslims in 2014 and 2019 because he had the Prosperous Justice Party’s (PKS) support. The PKS is the country’s most Islamist party, which has been behind Baswedan’s run since last year due to his Islamic roots, and it welcomes the PKB’s entry.
|Endorsing parties before
|Endorsing parties after
|Prabowo Subianto (Gerindra)
|Defence Minister (2019-24)
|Gerindra, PKB, Golkar, PAN (46% of DPR)
|Gerindra, Golkar, PAN
(36% of DPR)
|Central Java Governor
|PDI-P, PPP (25% of DPR)
|PDI-P, PPP (25% of DPR)
|Anies Baswedan (Non-partisan)
|Jakarta Governor (2017-22)
|Nasdem, PKS, PD
(28% of DPR)
|Nasdem, PKS, PKB
(29% of DPR)
|Muhaimin Iskandar (PKB)
Iskandar’s backstab hurts Prabowo and ultimately helps Baswedan. However, it does not automatically mean victory for the latter, who lags in the polls behind frontrunner Prabowo and Pranowo, who governed Central Java for a decade. Any blow to Prabowo is good news for his rival Pranowo, who despite coming from both Jokowi’s ruling PDI-P and home province, has not yet secured his support. Until Prabowo picks the right running mate and Baswedan builds on his completed ticket, Pranowo will revel in the opinion polls.
Pranowo himself can maintain the lead if he balances his nationalist and leftist image with an Islamic partner. While his Islamic faith (weighty in an Indonesian election) is not in doubt, with a father-in-law who is a cleric in Central Java, PDI-P does not carry the interests of pro-majoritarian Muslim voters. A running mate from the parliament’s smallest faction, the United Development Party (PPP), which has coalesced with PDI-P and is linked to his father-in-law, is the best solution to this matter. This is despite the PPP’s pull among Muslim voters being gradually eroded by the fresher PKS and PKB, even though it is the oldest Islamist party in the country. If both Pranowo and Prabowo fail to prevent being labelled as anti-majority, Baswedan will likely take the lead.
Wolves and sheep
What all this means for businesses is that the presidential race is still fluid, with parties still in negotiations. The outcome is still unclear as the race tightens, although frontrunner Prabowo can still pull off a win if he comes up with an inspiring response. The main casualty in this whirlwind, however, is former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat Party. Days before launching his ticket in Surabaya, Baswedan promised Yudhoyono that the latter’s son would be on his ticket, after almost a year of talks. However, Iskandar’s gambit changed that in a flash, leading to Yudhoyono publicly calling out Baswedan as “a wolf in sheep’s clothes” and for playing an “ugly” political game.
As political wolves begin their hunt ahead of the February vote, political parties will be less concerned and attentive about what needs to be done to reform the business climate. All eyes and efforts will be related to the February 2024 election, which is not only about the presidency but also about thousands of legislative seats at all levels and political positions in a post-Jokowi Indonesia. With all the backstabbing so far thinning the margins between the three candidates, it is also unlikely that a clear winner with the majority of votes will emerge, necessitating a run-off in June between the top two. Thus, the period of uncertainty for businesses will extend beyond the midway point of 2024. It might possibly end only after the elected president announces his cabinet in October or even November 2024, and the sheep are put in line as coalitions will shapeshift again after the new president takes power.
This article is based on a research note originally published in Seerist Core. Find out more about how Seerist’s adaptive artificial intelligence combined with localised geopolitical risk expertise can help you identify, monitor and mitigate risks.