Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jokowi's Electoral Fate Lies in VP Pick

Two questions remain unanswered in the minds of most Indonesians as the presidential elections approach. The first question relates to the identity of Joko Widodo’s vice presidential (VP) running mate. The second question is whether a strong rival will emerge to challenge Mr Widodo in the presidential race. 

The two questions are related, of course. Both are also reciprocal. Indeed, it is possible to answer to the latter by considering the first one carefully. 

I strongly believe that whether or not Mr Widodo wins the 2014 Presidential Election will be determined by the choice of his running mate.

Mr Widodo has indeed been the strongest candidate. But no one can guarantee that there won't be any tough competition ahead. It would be difficult to campaign for Mr Widodo if he isn’t paired with a politically strong candidate

In such a situation, Mr Widodo could be tragically beaten in a tight race. In this regard, I believe that Muslim and East Indonesian voters will be the determining factors.

Who would be the right man? What criteria should be considered? Is the traditional dichotomy between civilan and military figures or Javanese and non-Javanese pairing still relevant?

According to PolMark Indonesia’s surveys, the pairing of a civilian and military figure, or the need for Javanese to be linked with a non-Javanese is no longer relevant. Less than 25 per cent of voters take such factors into consideration. It would also be unwise to apply such a dichotomy in determining the best partner for Mr Widodo.

Two other factors, however, are important: namely representation and function. Mr Widido will have difficulty winning in the so-called battleground provinces where his electability level is still under 20 per cent. Most provinces in East Indonesia fall into this category. Hence, in order to win here, Mr Widodo should consider a figure who is very well accepted by voters in these provinces.

According to PolMark’s research, 71 percent of Mr Widodo’s supporters voters live on the most densely populated island of Java. Only 29 percent are outer Java inhabitants. In terms of regions, the number of Mr Widodo’s supporters in eastern Indonesian provinces is far fewer than in the western parts of the archipelago.

Another issue to be considered is the potential resistance of Muslim voters towards his party, The Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDIP) and its leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. The PDIP, Megawati and even Jokowi have often been perceived as “unfriendly” towards Muslim communities.

The PDIP established the Baitul Muslimin organization on March 2007 in order to gain more support from Muslim voters. But apparently that hasn't been considered adequate. Therefore, Mr Widodo should look for a vice-presidential candidate who is not only very well accepted by the Muslim community but regarded as an iconic figure.

Insufficient support by Muslim voters has been one of the major factors behind the failure of the party to win power in the previous two direct presidential elections.

“Function” is yet another crucial factor in selecting the most advantageous candidate for Mr Widodo. Ideally, he should be backed up by an associate who understands macroeconomics as well as politics. He will also need a vice-presidential candidate with strong management ability and has lots of deep-rooted experiences in managing the government as well as bureaucracy.

Governing the capital city’s administration, Jokowi has been politically blessed by having Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) as his vice governor. Ahok has proven himself worthy and reliable in settling many public policy issues.

A somewhat similar situation existed on the national level during the period when Jusuf Kalla was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s vice-president. Mr Kalla proved to be a REAL Vice President, who not only managed most economic issues effectively, but also handled the management of party coalitions elegantly.

Ms Megawati should be regarded as the real king maker in the 2014 Presidential Election. She held the cards with names of PDIP’s potential presidential candidates in her hands. Her power to decide was and is still almost absolute. Now again we have to patiently wait for Ms Megawati to decide who will be Mr Widido’s running mate.

Besides the 'representation' and 'function' variables mentioned above, I believe that Ms Megawati will also weigh other factors. The vice-president should be one who will not be a threat for the party or Mr Widodo politically.

Jusuf Kalla is one of the most promising candidates. A non-Javanese, He also has an impressive track record resolving inter-religious conflict.

But will he be Ms Megawati’s choice?
As a political analyst I must say there is no such guarantee. If Albert Einstein were here, I believe he would be of the same opinion. When asked why people could discover atomic power but not the means to control it, Einstein answered, “That is simple, my friend: because politics is more difficult than physics.”

Making political predictions is indeed much more difficult than making any physical projection. This is because in politics one has to deal with an unlimited number of factors. So back to that huge question mark, who would it be? Only time - and Megawati - will tell. 

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The writer is founder and CEO of PolMark Indonesia Inc, a Jakarta-based centre for political marketing research and consultancy.
Dimuat di The Straits Times, Singapura, Selasa 1 April 2014, rubrik Opini, halaman A22.
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