Jakarta Election Still Purnama’s to Lose

Next year’s gubernatorial election in Jakarta still seems to be Basuki Tjahaja Purnama‘s to lose. The incumbent remains the most popular candidate and, now that he has secured party backing, he can rest assured that he has enough support in the Jakarta Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) if he returns to City Hall after the February 15 poll.

That, at least, is if he can overcome the personal animosity of some members of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction in Jakarta, whose members in the regional house he has managed to upset during his time in office. Party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri is seen as leaning towards supporting Purnama, but she is facing opposition from the Jakarta branch of the party.

Although his electability declined following his decision to embrace political backing instead of seeking re-election as an independent, Purnama still topped a list of possible candidates, according to a recent survey by Manilka Research and Consulting.

The survey, which questioned 400 respondents between August 6 and 11, shows Purnama’s electability slumped to 43.6% from 49.3% in June. Purnama accepted the backing of the Golkar Party, the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) and the National Democrat Party (Nasdem) on July 27.

The three parties hold a total of 26 seats in the 106-seat Jakarta DPRD. A political party or a coalition of political parties is required to hold at least 20% of seats at the local legislature to nominate their own candidate.

Tri Rismaharini, the popular mayor of Surabaya in East Java, placed a distant second on the survey with 14.3% of respondents backing her, but she has repeatedly said she does not intend to run in the capital.

Meanwhile, the electability of would-be gubernatorial candidate Sandiaga Uno, backed by the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), was rated at 5%, up from 3.7% in June. Strong public campaigning and possible backing from a Gerindra-led coalition have not yet been able to bring the businessman’s popularity to a level that can challenge Purnama.


Purnama vs. the world

The outspoken Purnama has regularly found himself at odds with Jakarta lawmakers over various issues. His strict supervision of the provincial budget drafting process as well as his controversial stance of ensuring public order since taking office in 2014 have won him a band of loyal supporters, but also provided ammunition for his detractors.

He has been implicated in alleged graft surrounding the procurement of land belonging to the Sumber Waras Hospital in West Jakarta, as well as in a bribery case related to the Jakarta Bay reclamation project in North Jakarta – currently being investigated by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

But so far none of the mud has stuck, with the KPK and the State Audit Board (BPK) agreeing to disagree that the city paid too much in the Sumber Waras transaction. The KPK believes the BPK used the wrong year’s land values in its accusation that the governor overspent. Nor has any clear link been established between Purnama and the alleged reclamation project bribery.

Purnama’s political rivals have also been looking to exploit criticism of his tough eviction policies targeting people residing illegally on state land or river banks. Another gubernatorial hopeful, prominent lawyer and former Justice and Human Rights Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra, for instance, has offered pro bono services to those evicted from Luar Batang, Penjaringan, North Jakarta.

Purnama ordered the start of demolition of areas in Luar Batang in April as part of a wider plan to clear the Pasar Ikan area. The area is littered with illegal buildings, including homes and kiosks hugging the coastline.

Purnama said the eviction was needed to install sheet piles on riverbanks and the coastline as part of flood mitigation efforts. The residents, he said, will be relocated to nearby low-cost apartment units.

And despite the criticism, Purnama said on August 23 that people living in at least another 325 problematic locations will be evicted this year. At the same time subsidized apartments would be built to house them, he said.

As for the political impact, he said he was not concerned about his critics since his aim was to help the poor. “Politically, am I stupid? But I am not talking about politics,” Purnama said. “I am talking about the procurement of subsidized apartments. If they are ready, I will support evictions because people have already been living in poor conditions for too long.”

He is also mounting a challenge in the Constitutional Court to articles in the Regional Election Law, which would mean he would have to take four months off before the elections in February. He is arguing that the article is unreasonable, since it would mean the city is rudderless as it goes through the process of setting the 2017 budget. If he loses his case, he could lose the benefits of incumbency for an extended period.


Search for contenders

Even with problems beleaguering Purnama and the Jakarta administration, rival political parties are having a difficult time finding a candidate that stands a chance against him. Open and internal selection processes by several parties to seek a strong candidate who can match Purnama’s popularity have all been to no avail.

Names raised include Surabaya’s Rismaharini and her counterpart in the West Java capital of Bandung, Ridwan Kamil, and even controversial National Narcotics Agency (BNN) chief Comm. Gen. Budi Waseso, but none have succeeded in garnering more than 20% support in various independent polls this year. Anyway, all three have stated that they have no intention to join the Jakarta race.

There is no independent candidate ready to challenge Purnama, either. The Jakarta Regional Election Commission (KPUD) on August 8 barred political economist Ichsanudin Noorsy from contesting the gubernatorial election for not meeting the requirements.

Jakarta KPUD head Sumarno said Noorsy and his unionist running mate Ahmad Daryoko submitted only 19,505 copies of ID cards of registered voters as statements of support on August 7, far less than the minimum required: 532,212.

A group of hard-line Islamist organizations opposed to having a Christian of Chinese descent as governor announced on July 21 that they had five potential Muslim candidates to be nominated. The names proposed by the Muslim Governor for Jakarta (GMJ) movement included Mahendra, Uno, Noorsy, former Youth and Sports Minister Adhyaksa Dault and Syafrie Syamsuddin, a retired general and former deputy defense minister.

The GMJ is an umbrella group including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) and the United Betawi Forum (FBB). Supporters of these groups have been campaigning against the re-election of Purnama for some time, sometimes violently.

Meanwhile, former Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli has also emerged as a possible contender. Ramli fell out with Purnama over the imposition of a moratorium on the Jakarta Bay reclamation projects during his brief tenure as minister for maritime affairs. President Joko Widodo sacked Ramli in his latest cabinet reshuffle on July 27 and has said the reclamation project has to go ahead if Jakarta isn’t to disappear into the sea.

Activists from various groups, including the Save Indonesia Movement (GSI), Save Jakarta Movement (GSJ) and the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI), on August 9 urged the so-called Kinship Coalition to throw its support behind Ramli as a candidate in the Jakarta election.

The Kinship Coalition – which was announced on August 8 – includes the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra), Democratic Party, National Awakening Party (PKB), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN). Initially the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was also said to be involved but it quickly withdrew.

KSPI chairman Said Iqbal said that unlike Purnama, Ramli has proven his concern for the poor, including the working class, and has the capability to manage the economy. The former minister has not received any party backing so far, however.


A likely duel

At the moment, it looks like the Jakarta gubernatorial poll will become a head-to-head battle between Purnama and Uno, who secured the backing of Gerindra’s chief patron Prabowo Subianto, defeating Mahendra and Syamsuddin.

In a bid to tackle Purnama, its former cadre, Gerindra has mobilized its political machine to generate support through the Kinship Coalition. The parties are reportedly negotiating to nominate a running mate for Uno. The parties in the coalition hold a combined 54 seats in the Jakarta DPRD.

One suggestion that has been made is that Gerindra would support Purnama as the candidate for the vice governorship, presumably alongside Uno. With Purnama well ahead in the polls, he is unlikely to take much notice of that suggestion.


Winning Megawati’s support

Purnama and his political rivals are now racing to win the heart of PDI-P’s Megawati Sukarnoputri. With 28 seats in the Jakarta DPRD, the PDI-P can field a candidate pair on its own.

The PDI-P now seems to be warming to Purnama, after the governor decided that he would run on a party ticket. The party at first was firm that it would not back the incumbent, saying it would not support an independent candidate.

Purnama and Sukarnoputri have been seen together on various occasions since late July and the governor on August 17 claimed he had secured her backing for his re-election bid. He stated that Sukarnoputri had expressed her support at the party’s central leadership board (DPP) office after they attended the Independence Day ceremony at the State Palace. Their meeting was also attended by Kristiyanto and Jakarta Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat, a member of the PDI-P DPP.

Purnama said that Sukarnoputri confirmed that he does not need to pass a fit and proper test, adding that he will likely run with Hidayat. That means the governor will dump Heru Budi Hartono, the current head of the Jakarta Financial Management Board (BPKD) and his previous would-be running mate as an independent candidate.

On August 18 Hidayat, in comments to Tempo magazine, confirmed that the PDI-P is leaning toward supporting Purnama but added that the party is still assessing developments at the grassroots level before making an official announcement.  He quoted Sukarnoputri as telling Purnama that “You and Djarot, I see the two of you are good enough, so why not continue (as partners)?”

Sukarnoputri is used to getting her own way within the party and soon she is expected to brush the opposition to a Purnama-Hidayat pairing aside and officially back the pair. That would effectively seal the contest, failing any dramatic revelations between now and the election to cripple Purnama’s chances.

There remains an outside chance that PDI-P will decide not to back Purnama and throw its weight behind a candidate such as Rismaharini. Earlier in August, Syarif, the head of Gerindra’s Jakarta campaign team, said his party would support any candidate from the PDI-P should the PDI-P agree to form a coalition with Gerindra.

He expected such a coalition would ensure victory in the gubernatorial race, as in 2012 when the two parties fielded Joko Widodo, the current president, and Purnama as his running mate. “We are aware that we are the second-largest party. The PDI-P, as the largest party, will nominate a candidate for governor. (Sandiago) Uno would be the running mate to the PDI-P’s candidate,” Syarif said.

Sukarnoputri thus finds herself once again playing the role of kingmaker, a position she relishes. Yet kingmakers tend to want loyalty from the people they make kings, and neither Purnama nor PDI-P cadre President Joko Widodo have shown much interest in toeing party lines.

At the end of the day, however, PDI-P will not want to be associated with a loser and the lack of any strong candidate to run against Purnama tends to support the belief that it will throw its weight behind him. Whether he is then prepared to do as he is told is another matter entirely.


A version of this article was first published by Concord Review on August 31, 2016. Free trial subscriptions are available.

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