Jakarta. Will Indonesia look back on Friday, March 14 as the day the 2014 presidential election was decided?
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) nominated the wildly popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo as its presidential candidate on Friday, putting to an end months of speculation as to whether party chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri was readying her fourth bid for the highest office in the world's fourth-largest country.
The governor took a break from an impromptu visit to subsidized housing in Marunda, North Jakarta to welcome the news on Friday. He told a crowd of reporters and local residents that he was prepared to mount a campaign for the July election.
"I have been given the blessing of PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri to be a presidential candidate,” Joko said before touching his head to the Indonesian flag in a show of respect. “Bismillahirrahmanirahim, I am ready."
The PDI-P made the official announcement on Friday afternoon as Megawati read from a handwritten note at the party's headquarters in Lenteng Agung, South Jakarta. The one-time president made a direct appeal to Indonesian voters, asking them to support Joko in the coming presidential campaign.
"My command is, as the PDI-P chairwoman, to the people of Indonesia who have consciousness for justice and honesty wherever you are: support Bapak Joko Widodo as PDI-P presidential candidate," Megawati read.
The PDI-P received 14 percent of the popular vote in the 2009 election, securing enough seats to control 19.69 percent of the House of Representatives. But the opposition party will have to convince a sizable percentage of new voters to mount a presidential campaign alone. Political parties need 25 percent of the vote or 20 percent of the House to nominate a presidential candidate without forming a coalition.
Yudhoyono tightened his grip on the House after the 2009 election, forming a six-party coalition that stands opposite the PDI-P. But a series of high-profile graft cases have all but destroyed the Democratic Party's upper echelons and the president has struggled to keep the more unruly members, like the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), in check.
The outcome of April's legislative race will set the tone for the coming election, narrowing the crowded playing field to a few candidates and kick off the official campaign season. With Joko's presidential bid at least partially on the line, Megawati asked her supporters to do whatever they could to ensure a clean election.
"Protect and guard the 2014 legislative elections, especially at polling booths and during tallying of the votes, from any fraud and intimidation," Megawati said. "Strengthen your heart in guarding the democracy in our beloved Republic of Indonesia."
The timing of the announcement, which came after months of silence from both Joko and Megawati, will likely bode well for PDI-P candidates in the legislative elections. The official legislative campaign season begins on Sunday, March 16 — giving voters a weekend to digest the news of Joko's run before the PDI-P takes to the streets.
"Making the announcement before the legislative elections will make the PDI-P's electability the highest among all the parties," said Wawan Ichwanudin, a political science lecturer at the University of Indonesia. "But there is still a possibility that Jokowi will lose the race.
"There are still undecided voters and other candidates. To date, Jokowi's electability hasn't surpassed 50 percent, so there is still a chance for any other candidate."
If Joko fails to break the 50 percent threshold in the July election, the race will be decided with a run-off vote between the two most popular candidates. The governor was able to secure his position in Jakarta with a run-off, trouncing incumbent Fauzi Bowo, but a presidential race is an entirely different beast, Wawan warned.
"With less than 50 percent, there would have to be a second round of the election," he explained. "This will give another chance for other candidates to team up against Jokowi and gather their votes. The possibility that this other team might win the race is still a reality."
Joko routinely tops electability polls, but contenders like the Great Indonesia Movement Party's (Gerindra) Prabowo Subianto and the Golkar Party's Aburizal Bakrie are still at his heels. Both men announced their candidacy early in the game and have been making the rounds to drum up support ahead of the campaign season.
Aburizal, a mining and property tycoon, is pushing for a protectionist stance on Indonesia's natural resources and is banking on the emergence of New Order nostalgia to provide a push for the Golkar Party — the one-time election machine of Indonesian strongman Suharto.
He has repeatedly gone on the record to say that Joko's candidacy is a non-issue as far as he is concerned. The only real threats, Aburizal said, were Megawati and Prabowo.
Prabowo, the former leader of the nation's feared Kopassus Special Forces, has taken great pains to recast himself as populist leader with a firm grip. His Gerindra party has embarked on an aggressive social media campaign illustrating the party's commitment to anti-corruption and nationalism ahead of the election.
But allegations of human rights offenses, including kidnapping and killings during the chaos that capped off Suharto's reign, could prove to be a substantial hurdle for Prabowo's popularity among the nation's emerging middle class.
Gerindra supported Joko and his running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in the Jakarta gubernatorial race. But while Basuki has remained loyal to the Gerindra party, Joko was always with the PDI-P. The pre-election rumor mill has swirled with suggestions of a Joko-Prabowo joint ticket, peaking after Basuki made a Chinese New Year visit to Prabowo's mountain-side compound, but so far any mention of a coalition remain speculation.
One Gerindra official said the party was not concerned with Joko's emergence as a contender in the race.
"We have no problem at all," said Habiburohman, the head of advocacy at Gerindra. "We are ready to compete with anyone. Prabowo has his own qualities, so we're welcome to any contenders."
Deserting the Durian?
Plans to expand the capital's public transportation system, including the much-delayed construction of a monorail and mass-rapid transit line, have begun in earnest but it will be years before Jakarta residents feel the impact on their daily lives. The governor has, in the past, promised that his attentions were on the capital, not Merdeka Palace, but Friday's announcement has cemented Joko's ambitions for higher office.
"How people see it, his unfinished responsibility in Jakarta and his commitment will be a question that Jokowi has to eventually answer," Habiburohman said. "It's his business, not ours."
Jakarta's deputy governor suggested Joko take a leave of absence during the campaign season instead of vacating his office. There was still a mountain of work to be done in the capital that needed Joko's attention, Basuki said.
"All this time, the Governor has trusted me to lead meetings," Basuki said. "I can make decisions. Or if there is anything Pak Jokowi wants to say, he can always call me during meetings."