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Analysis: Prabowo's pick of Jokowi's son as VP mate a boost for the trio, but a blow to Indonesia's democracy?

JAKARTA: Riding on President Joko Widodo’s popularity and exploiting his 36-year-old son Gibran Rakabuming Raka’s youthful image to win over young voters are among key reasons why Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto has picked the latter as his running mate in contesting the upcoming Indonesian presidential election, say analysts.

They believe the move could give the 72-year-old Subianto, a third-time presidential hopeful, a boost in extending his lead over two other contenders who will now have to rethink their strategies in response to the Feb 14 election next year.

But in the long run, observers say the pick of Mr Raka as vice-president candidate – the first time a political scion this young has been picked for an office this high under controversial circumstances – comes with high stakes that could impact Indonesia’s politics going forward and possibly even hurt its democracy.

Mr Raka, who’s mayor of Solo city, is eligible to run only after the Constitutional Court had ruled last Monday (Oct 16) that expanded the candidacy requirements for presidential and vice presidential hopefuls to include elected officials younger than 40, the minimum age required.

On Sunday night, Mr Subianto made the VP announcement on Sunday night (Oct 22), despite public outrage and protests over the ruling by the court that was chaired by the brother-in-law of Mr Widodo.

“This is a gamble for Mr Raka. If he wins, his political career will clearly move faster,” said political analyst Mr Wawan Mas’udi from the University of Gadjah Mada.

“If he loses, it won’t be the end but it will face many obstacles because of the negative image of his family-based politics. The public in general, the mass media, civil society, see it as part of Jokowi’s grip on power.”

Mr Subianto, who is contesting for the third time after losing twice to Mr Widodo in 2014 and 2019, is the current frontrunner among the other two presidential hopefuls. 

The other candidate is former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, 54, who is running with the chairman of the Islam-based National Awakening Party (PKB) Muhaimin Iskandar, 57.

Former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, 54, is also in the race whose partner is Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD, 66.

According to various pollsters, Mr Subianto is leading given his close ties to popular outgoing 62-year-old President Widodo. The latter is barred from seeking reelection as the constitution only allows a person to stay in power for two terms.

According to pollster Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI) on Oct 22, Mr Subianto and Mr Raka are leading with 35.9 per cent, followed by Mr Pranowo and Mr Mahfud at 26.1 per cent. In third place are Mr Baswedan and Mr Iskandar, whose popularity rating is 19.6 per cent.

CHANCES OF PRABOWO WINNING

Given these factors, Mr Komarudin thinks Mr Subianto and Mr Raka are on course to win the election.

“Because, like it or not, the current president will do his best to support them,” he said. 

But political analyst Ray Rangkuti from Jakarta-based think tank Lingkar Madani believes it might not be a foregone conclusion.

He said Mr Subianto and Mr Raka need to be careful because they are neck and neck with Mr Pranowo and Mr Mahfud. 

“Don’t forget that many people are disappointed by this (Mr Subianto choosing Mr Raka). 

“This will impact whether people will actually vote for Mr Subianto or choose Ganjar Pranowo. And many of those who are disappointed are influencers like religious leaders and academics,” Mr Rangkuti stated. 

Mr Komarudin from the University Al Azhar Indonesia believes it is highly possible that protests will be staged to oppose Mr Subianto and Mr Raka. 

“In a democracy, protests are normal. As long as they are peaceful and people do not use slander and pit one against another. It is normal,” he said. 

He said it is the right of Mr Subianto’s coalition to choose Mr Raka, following the amendment of election requirements. 

Analysts say it remains to be seen how Mr Baswedan and Mr Pranowo will strategise their campaigns in response to Mr Raka’s VP contest. 

But what is important now is for all presidential and vice presidential hopefuls to strategise clearly, said Mr Komarudin. 

While every vote counts, all candidates may specifically target Muslim votes, given that Indonesia is the world’s largest-Muslim majority country, where about 230 million people are Muslim. 

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates will also likely target millennials and Gen Z, who comprise about 56 per cent of the eligible voters.

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HIGH STAKES IN THE LONG-TERM

Analysts are split on how running in next year’s election may impact Mr Gibran’s political career.

Mr Komarudin believes that it will get a boost, regardless of a win or loss.

“If he wins, his career will skyrocket, and he may have a long career,” added the analyst. “But if he loses, he still has time. In politics, you can win and lose several times, especially given he is still young.” 

Mr Rangkuti from Lingkar Madani though has a different view, adding that there will be a negative perception of Mr Raka for choosing to run with Mr Subianto, despite still being a member of the ruling PDI-P party.

But to Mr Rangkuti, the pairing of Mr Subianto and Mr Raka has a higher stake than the latter’s political career, as it has now paved the way for a new political dynasty, namely Jokowi’s.

Apart from Mr Raka, the president’s 28-year-old second son Kaesang Pangarep, was recently appointed chair of the youth-oriented Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) even though he has no political background. 

Jokowi’s son-in-law Bobby Nasution, 32, is the current mayor of Medan, Sumatra’s biggest city.

Mr Rangkuti asserted that a political dynasty is a recipe for corruption that Indonesia suffers from.

“There is nothing good about this. This is clearly a decline of democracy,” said Mr Rangkuti.

Mr Mas’udi the analyst said the political drama over whether Mr Subianto might pick Jokowi’s son in the past few months, which culminated in the court ruling last week, could also have lingering effects from perceptions of it being a politically motivated move.

“It turns out that, yes, there was indeed an attempt to make Gibran one of the election contestants, and this all answered the public’s question of why there was the Constitutional Court ruling,” he added.  

“It turns out that the end is clear: Gibran is Mr Prabowo’s vice presidential candidate.”

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