TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - TWO things will influence the constellation surrounding the 2019 presidential election. First is the position of President Joko Widodo as the incumbent. Second is the basic requirement of only proposing candidates based on the outcome of the 2014 parliamentary election.
Jokowi's status as the incumbent will strongly affect the political map in 2019. Occupying the top spot as RI-1, he will already have many advantages over whoever his competitor(s) may be. After leading the nation for three years, he has already made good use of the various instruments he has available to drive up, or at least maintain, his popularity. He can make use of the major political capital he has built up without breaking any rules.
The infrastructure development projects he initiated, such as toll roads, mass transportation, and ports in various regions all of which the government is still forging ahead with will be viewed as the success of Jokowis development initiative in the first term of his governance. He can also use a variety of means to approach first-time voters who, from Central Statistics Agency data, will make up 55 percent of the electorate in the coming election.
The combination of all these efforts means that Jokowis chances of re-election are very high. Several opinion polls rank his electability as the highest, far greater than that of his closest competitor, Gerindra Party Chairman Prabowo Subianto. Of course, several other possibilities could still eventuate over the next 18 months, when the presidential election is to be held.
The second factor, using the results of the 2014 parliamentary election as the basis for determining who the presidential candidates will be, will clearly affect the constellation. With a candidacy threshold, namely the votes obtained by one or more political parties, with a minimum of 20 percent, means there can at most be only three presidential candidates in 2019. This regulation effectively stops small parties from pushing forward alternative candidates. The use of this old political map allows leaders of political parties to now determine their preparatory moves. In the previous election, the new parties could position themselves only after the outcome of the legislative election was known. This time, they can look into the possibilities of coalescing and enticing the candidates to woo them from the very outset.
So far, Prabowo, his competitor in the 2014 presidential election, remains Jokowis strongest challenger. The parties are yet to come up with any other candidate who could potentially unseat Jokowi or who, at the very least, is as electable as Prabowo. The Golkar party, which in 2014 championed Prabowo, is now well ahead of time supporting Jokowi. At the same time, taking his age into account, Vice President Jusuf Kalla is unlikely to be Jokowi's running mate again. As a result, almost all the leaders of the various parties are already fully occupied with filling the number two spot, after first becoming the winning vice-presidential candidate. They assume, if elected as vice president in 2019, that it would be easier for them to aspire for the number one spot in the election after that. Right now we are witnessing public figures, public officials, and politicians of all stripes fiercely competing to get close to Jokowi in the hope of being chosen to become his vice-presidential running mate.
This tendency of politicians to only fight for the number two spot is very concerning. They are acting pragmatically to pursue this potential position. These politicians are only taking advantage of potential opportunities from another Jokowi win. As a result, any opportunity for the wider public to get an alternative candidate to lead the nation would be gone. It has to change.
The unspoken desires of some ministers to also be the vice-presidential candidate worsens this situation. Any minister seeking to become vice president will continually curry favors with the President. They will be reluctant to offer any differing opinions, even though theirs might be the more appropriate one to resolve a public issue. The policies they make will be ineffective, drafted only to please their superior. If that does happen, the broader public interest will be harmed.
The job of providing candidates to lead the nation is one of those left in the hands of the political parties. Regrettably, these parties only organizations that can propose presidential candidates are now mostly looking after their own short-term interests. They are frequently busy with transactional politics and ignore strengthening their own core memberships. For several parties, close personal connections are a determining factor in filling important party positions.
As a result of this, it seems there is little hope of the 2019 election being a level playing field for the presidential candidates. At the very least, even if capable candidates do compete against Jokowi, the above will mean that the election will not be used as an arena for correcting him. Such an unequal fight, as some observers predict, will only tempt the challenger to go back to the old ways of using ethnicity, religion, race, and inter-group issues spiced up with spite and insults to win.
Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine