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Prabowo Maintains Narrow Lead in Indonesian Presidential Polls

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto maintains a narrow lead over his two rivals as campaigning for the country’s February election begins to heat up, according to two new public opinion polls.

A survey conducted by the local pollster Indikator Politik released on Friday showed Prabowo, a former general who serves as defense minister, commanding the support of 37 percent of the 4,300 people surveyed, ahead of former Central Java governor Ganjar on 34.5 percent and ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan on 21.9 percent. Just under 7 percent were undecided.

Prabowo was also in a similar position in a poll released a day earlier by Lembaga Survei Indonesia, which showed Prabowo enjoying the support of 37 percent of the 1,620 respondents. Ganjar followed on 35.2 percent and Anies on 22.7 percent.

The election is likely to come down to the wire, with recent polls oscillating between Prabowo and Ganjar. While the official campaign period for the election does not begin until November 28, the political momentum has begun to speed up since the beginning of the election commission’s one-week registration period on October 19.

On that date, Ganjar and Anies both registered along with their vice presidential running-mates, while Prabowo told reporters that he planned to do so this week. While these opinion polls show Prabowo is in pole position to win the presidency, the surveys were both conducted in early October, prior to the finalization of two of the three contending presidential tickets.

The most significant development on this front was yesterday’s announcement by Prabowo’s campaign that Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, the eldest son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and current mayor of Surakarta, would serve as Prabowo’s vice-presidential running-mate.

Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka

As Virdika Rizky Utama writes in these pages today, the decision was a “carefully calculated gamble” of the part of 72-year-old former general, who is making a bid to harness the legacy and remarkable popularity of Jokowi, who defeated him at the 2014 and 2019 elections, while attempting to appeal to millions of young Indonesian voters.

The announcement sets up an intriguing battle with Ganjar, the candidate representing the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), under whose banner Jokowi competed in 2014 and 2019, and reflects the growing divisions within Jokowi’s sprawling governing coalition as to who can claim his legacy.

As Reuters reported earlier this month, while Jokowi has in the past offered hints that he supports Ganjar’s candidacy, “he has also been covertly marshalling support for controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto.” As per the report, this has included instructions to political parties within his coalition to support Prabowo, and a hint to his massive informal political network, Projo, to back the former Suharto-era general.

There have also been reports of a growing rift between Jokowi and the PDIP, in particular, with party matriarch Megawati Sukarnoputri. All this has been accompanied by rumors that Jokowi, constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office, is seeking to enshrine his power and legacy by boosting his children into high office.

If last month’s appointment of Jokowi’s youngest son, 28-year-old Kaesang Pangarep, as chairman of the youth-oriented Indonesian Solidarity Party just days after entering politics hinted at the Indonesian leader’s desire to establish a family dynasty to rival those of his predecessors, the appointment of the 36-year-old Gibran as Prabowo’s running-mate seemingly only confirms it. It also underscores that Jokowi, after a period of vacillation, has settled on Prabowo as his successor of choice, whether or not he issues a formal endorsement.

Whether or not Gibran ends up benefiting Prabowo’s candidacy remains unclear. As Virdika argues, the potential benefits of the Jokowi family connection, and Gibran’s purported ability to rally the Indonesian youth vote, must be weighed against the risk of backlash against the apparent nepotism that has allowed him to run.

Gibran’s candidacy was only enabled by last week’s controversial Constitutional Court ruling, which  stated that candidates under the minimum age of 40 could run for president or vice president, provided that they have been elected to office at the regional level. It has also not escaped notice that the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is Jokowi’s brother-in-law.

Part of Jokowi’s appeal in 2014 was that he hailed from neither the military establishment nor from the country’s established political elite. A decade on, he has come gradually to resemble those who came before him, engaging in open patronage and horse-trading in a bid to ensure that his power persists beyond the end of his term next October.

Whether the Indonesian electorate punishes him for this, or whether his extreme popularity simply transfers to the Prabowo-Gibran ticket, will not only impact Indonesia’s political trajectory over the short term; it will say a lot about how far the country’s democratic system has evolved since 1998.

Sebastian Strangio for TheDiplomat

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