Jakarta: Battleground of the Titans

Jakarta is heading for a two-round battle of the Titans, as incumbent Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and his deputy Djarot Saiful Hidayat try to head off a challenge from two other sets of contestants in the gubernatorial poll.

With plenty of dirt likely to be thrown over the next few months and the challengers expected to wage a well-funded campaign in the media, the chance of Purnama and Hidayat winning victory in a first round is unlikely.

Unlike most other areas of the country where a candidate in a crowded field of runners needs only to top 30% of the vote, in Jakarta the rules are different: Under the 2007 Jakarta Administration Law the requirement is 50% plus one of votes.

That explains why the coalition ranged against Purnama split into two: not because of ideological or personality differences, but in order to deny the incumbents a majority in the first round. The move doesn’t split the vote against Purnama and Hidayat, it maximizes the likelihood of two rounds of voting, with the strongest opposition candidate taking on the incumbent headon.

By that stage, according to the campaign strategy of the challengers, Purnama and Hidayat will be punch-drunk from the blows aimed at them in the first round.

Ahmad Riza Patria, head of the central leadership board (DPP) of the Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) is one who predicts that the gubernatorial election will go to two rounds. “We are optimistic that the 2017 Jakarta election will be a two-round contest. And a recent survey shows decreasing electability of the incumbent,” Patria said on September 26.


The candidates
Incumbents Purnama and Hidayat are backed by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party, the National Democrats (Nasdem) and the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura). With the decision by PDI-P to throw its weight behind the incumbents, that’s a formidable combination.

Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) are backing Anies Baswedan, sacked as minister for basic education and culture by President Joko Widodo last July, and businessman Sandiaga Uno.

The Democratic Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the National Awakening Party (PKB), to widespread surprise, are backing the oldest son of another former president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono resigned his commission in the Army to nominate and will run with Sylviana Murni, a respected senior official in the Jakarta administration whose most recent post was as a deputy governor.

Many see the Jakarta election as a dress-rehearsal for the 2019 presidential election

The three sets of candidates represent the proxies of the three kingmakers of Indonesian political life: Sukarnoputri, Yudhoyono and Subianto. Many see the Jakarta election as a dress-rehearsal for the 2019 presidential election, with the three major forces in Indonesian politics ranged against each other in a continuation of the struggle for power that began back in 2004, when Yudhoyono ran against Sukarnoputri after resigning from her cabinet, earning her perpetual hatred.

He retained the presidency in 2009 against Sukarnoputri, at the time paired with Subianto as her vice-presidential running mate. There were reports of a deal in which Sukarnoputri would back Subianto for a presidential run in 2014. Instead, she backed the upstart Joko Widodo.

According to Syamsuddin Haris of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the three would-be kingmakers are looking to enhance their position ahead of the next presidential poll. Jakarta, he notes, represents a strategic crown, not least because it is constantly in the eye of the media, and because of its economic power.


Gangster leadership
It had appeared that Purnama and Hidayat were in an unassailable position of strength as the candidates head into the campaign period, which formally begins on October 28. Both will have to take leave almost immediately to meet the requirement to stand down for four months before the election. Purnama is contesting the ruling at the Constitutional Court, and a win there could give him more time to impress voters with his capacity to manage the city.

If he fails to have the ruling overturned, the value of incumbency will be weakened, although many voters see the evidence of the work that has been going on in Jakarta under his leadership. While many do not like his rough and outspoken style, as one commentator said on social media, “Ahok (Purnama’s nickname) is a gangster, and Jakarta needs a gangster.”

Some of the opposition to him is based purely on his ethnicity and religion. A crowd measured in the tens of thousands met at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta on September 18 reiterating their rejection of non-Muslim candidates in the Jakarta election, i.e. Purnama.

Those present included hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) head Habib Rizieq Shihab; former People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) chairman Hidayat Nur Wahid; former minister, Muslim-based Crescent Star Party (PBB) chairman Yusril Ihza Mahendra; National Mandate Party (PAN) honorary board head Amien Rais; and hard-line Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) secretary general Muhammad al Khaththath.

Of those, Mahendra will have been disappointed by not being chosen to run in the poll, while Rais is an increasingly embittered former leader of the movement to oust former President Suharto. The others represent the hard core of the Islamist movement.

Neither of the candidates opposed to the incumbents is closely defined by their religion. They are, however, more polite, in a way that will appeal to voters who don’t like Purnama’s brash style. And the ardent Muslim voter will be swayed by the hard-line argument that it is not fitting for the capital of the Muslim-majority country to be run by a non-Muslim.


People power
Baswedan and Uno have chosen for their campaign the theme “Jakarta for the People,” a clear rebuff of Purnama’s tendency to kick the city’s poor out of their homes while favoring big developers. If Purnama does manage to keep working for a few more months, he is likely to be less active in evicting people from their homes, even if it does slow down his work on flood control.

He would also have the opportunity to take some action against developers who have built out the Krukut River and who are now being blamed for causing devastating flooding in the Kemang area. Those floods have undermined his promises to reduce the devastation caused by floods in the capital.

It will take a lot to convince lower-income voters that the former rector of a private university and a leading businessman will really do anything to improve their lot

The biggest task ahead for Baswedan and Uno will be to motivate lower-income voters to go to the polling booths. Many of those voters are disenchanted with the business of politics, and it will take a lot to convince them that the former rector of a private university and a leading businessman will really do anything to improve their lot.

Widespread sympathy for Baswedan emerged when he was summarily dismissed from President Joko Widodo’s cabinet in July. No reason of substance has emerged to justify his sacking and his replacement, Muhadjir Effendy, has not demonstrated that he is any improvement. Two ideas he has floated – to make schoolchildren stay in school until 5 PM, and to increase character-building efforts in the curriculum – have received a negative response from the public.

Effendy owes his position mainly to his leading role in religious organization Muhammadiyah, which was demanding a cabinet post to balance the line-up of Nahdlatul Ulama figures in positions of power. That leaves Baswedan looking like the unfortunate victim of Widodo’s consensus politics.

Uno has the money to put into a campaign but has not impressed by his willingness to drop his own aspirations for leadership in order to run with Baswedan, who reportedly refused to consider a number two slot. That leaves Uno looking weak, while Baswedan only has a limited track record.

That suggests that the Baswedan-Uno pairing will win a degree of the sympathy vote in addition to the loyal supporters of Gerindra and PKS, although neither candidate has done much to develop a support base in their respective parties. Much will depend on how well they campaign but at the moment they would appear to be heading for third place.


Out of the ranks
The emergence of Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono as a candidate was a surprise, a secret as well if not better kept than Sukarnoputri’s decision to back Purnama and Hidayat. Social media has been alive with criticism that Harimurti has been forced to sacrifice his promising military career just to satisfy his father’s desire to establish a political dynasty. Younger brother Edhie Baskoro proved to be a failure, so now Agus has to step in to keep the family name in the top ranks of Indonesian politics.

His nomination has provoked a wide variety of theories, many of them at variance with each other. That suggests that, if nothing else, the spin doctors are already working overtime.

It is possible that Subianto and Yudhoyono were sealing a deal to kick Sukarnoputri’s candidates out of office

A report in Kompas daily on September 26 said Subianto visited Yudhoyono’s residence at Cikeas on the northern edge of Jakarta discretely on September 22 in an attempt to persuade the former president to maintain the unity of the forces ranged against Purnama. Yudhoyono, according to the report, refused to do so, insisting that he and the other parties who opposed Purnama’s re-election would go their own way. That night, the candidacy of Agus Harimurti was unleashed.

There is scope for an alternative interpretation of the reported meeting. If the Jakarta election is merely another round in the battle between the three kingmakers, it is possible that Subianto and Yudhoyono were sealing a deal to kick Sukarnoputri’s candidates out of office. To do so would weaken the capacity of PDI-P and Golkar to have Widodo re-elected in 2019.

Concord was told by a source close to one of the parties backing Harimurti and Sylviana Murni that the Army major was willing to resign his military career because it was not going anywhere. The source said Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, backed by his mentor Sukarnoputri, had blocked Harimurti’s career path and ordered him to be posted in backwater positions that meant he would be leap-frogged by other ambitious young officers.

Ryacudu would have needed to lean heavily on the army to put Harimurti in the slow lane

It is very common knowledge that Sukarnoputri has never forgiven the elder Yudhoyono for reneging on his promise not to oppose her and standing against her – and winning – the 2004 presidential election. Ryacudu was similarly overlooked by Yudhoyono and wasn’t able to realize his ambition to become Armed Forces (TNI) commander.

But sources close to the military say this argument doesn’t stand up. For a start, Ryacudu doesn’t have direct control over appointments, particularly not at the level of major. He would have needed to lean heavily on the army to put Harimurti in the slow lane.

And arguments that the young officer’s position was off the mainstream are also suspect. In command of a battalion at Karawang in West Java, Harimurti was able to pop back to Jakarta any time he liked, a posting that many officers transferred to more distant posts could only dream about. Karawang is also a very wealthy industrial area, with extensive business that could be tapped for ‘support’.

The message being sent by a variety of sources may just be part of the psy-war that will develop strongly over the next three months. And Harimurti has a lot going for him: he was the top of his class at the military academy and is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Yet at only 38, many will believe he is too young for the job, even if he is balanced by Murni, an experienced bureaucrat.

Sources in the elder Yudhoyono’s camp say Harimurti has been groomed for a political run for the past year, and the decision to nominate him for the Jakarta governorship emerged a couple of months ago. The assumption is that he will do well enough to present him as a heavyweight for an extended political career, not least as the next leader of his father’s Democratic Party.

Will voters agree that he is worth backing? He’ll get a share of the “anyone but Purnama” vote, and appeal to those who believe a military background is a strong credential for civic leadership. But he is untried and untested, even with Murni on his ticket.


No clear first-round winner
There is likely to be enough interest in Agus Harimurti and Baswedan and their respective running mates to deny Purnama a clear win in the first round. Expect dirty tricks, racial slurs – especially on social media – and all the other trappings of a typical Jakarta election. The outcome of the contest will inevitably represent an important pointer to the shape of the 2019 presidential elections.

Purnama will realize he has no chance to take the presidency, but victory in gaining re-election will support a second term for his mentor, Widodo. Neither Baswedan nor Harimurti have the standing to effectively challenge Widodo. Neither is likely to be able to repeat Widodo’s own spectacular leap from obscurity as the mayor of Solo to the office of governor of Jakarta and then after a mere two years to be sitting in the State Palace.

No other potential candidate has emerged at this stage. Armed Forces commander Gen. Gatot Nurmyanto is known to have ambition, but that alone will not propel him to the top.

This may mean continuing frustration for both the elder Yudhoyono and Subianto and leave Sukarnoputri as the power behind the thrown. But at 68, she needs to find a new leader for the PDI-P and her insistence that it must be led by a member of the Sukarno family limits the options. For the time being, her job is to get her party cadres in line to back the Purnama-Hidayat pairing and make sure they win. Some have already said publicly they will not support the pair.

The sad conclusion is that if Jakarta is merely a pawn in the bigger political goals of the would-be kingmakers, Jakarta itself will be condemned to short-term gambits that aim to wow voters without the hard decisions being taken that will go far to solve the city’s many problems.

If that is the case, the argument that Jakarta is essentially unsustainable will gain pace, and the quality of life in what should be one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant cities will slowly be choked to death by traffic chaos, pollution and the mounting pile of its own waste.

A version of this article was first published by Concord Review on September 27, 2016. Free trial subscriptions are available.

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