Weekend event reveals internal rifts among Indonesia's ruling party elites ahead of 2024 election

Ganjar Pranowo fielded as a PDI-P candidate, was elected as Central Java governor in 2018, and his term ends in 2023. - GANJAR PRANOWO/FACEBOOK

JAKARTA (The Straits Times/ANN): A very popular member of Indonesia's ruling party has come under the spotlight after he was glaringly excluded from a list of invitees to a recent Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) event aimed at consolidating support in Central Java province ahead of the 2024 general election.

Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo has ostensibly found himself in the doghouse for what his party cadre perceive to be his over-ambition.

This was political deja vu of the 2013 treatment of then Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, who would later be picked by PDI-P to be its presidential candidate.

The event over the weekend was well attended by mayors, PDI-P regents in the Central Java province and party colleagues. Presidential aspirant Puan Maharani, who is the daughter of party chairman Megawati Soekarnoputri, delivered a keynote speech.

Puan, a former minister, is the current Parliament speaker.

Explaining the weekend snub, a PDI-P party leader alleged that Ganjar has conspicuously promoted himself on social media without coordinating with the party.

Ganjar, 52, runs his own YouTube channel to showcase the important milestones of his work, broadcast his other activities such as speeches and visits to street food outlets popular with the community.

A 3 ½ minute video early in the pandemic in March last year saw Ganjar speaking on phone with an 80-year-old medical doctor Handoko Gunawan, who was at the front line treating coronavirus patients. In it, Mr Ganjar checked on the veteran doctor's condition and expressed appreciation and encouragement.

The video went viral and was widely praised.

"Last time, victory in the local elections was the bellwether of someone's chance to win a presidential race. Today, it is how one manages the Covid-19 pandemic," Metta Dharmasaputra, co-founder and CEO of Jakarta-based business and research firm Katadata, told ST.

A May 23 video on Ganjar's YouTube channel shows a South Korean company breaking ground on the construction of a 5 trillion rupiah (S$463 million) plant in Central Java that would employ 1,200 workers. He promised two other heavyweight names would follow suit.

These moves, however, have not gone down well within his party.

"If he wants to be a presidential candidate, he has to get prior consent from the party chairman who holds the authority," said Bambang Wuryanto, a member of PDI-P's central board who is in charge of campaigning for general election.

He added that Ganjar has gone overboard in his display of personal ambition.

Ganjar, fielded as a PDI-P candidate, was elected as Central Java governor in 2018, and his term ends in 2023.

In provincial governor and presidential elections in Indonesia, voters elect their candidate directly. In the legislative elections for Parliament seats, voters directly pick which party they want to be represented by.

"His assigned duty is to be a governor. When his term ends, he has first to report back to the party chairman," Bambang stressed.

Ganjar did not respond to The Straits Times seeking comments.

In 2013, Widodo also faced opposition from PDI-P elites including Puan and then party secretary general Tjahjo Kumolo, who wanted Widodo to complete his term as Jakarta governor from 2012 to 2017. But party chairman Megawati later decided to field Widodo in the presidential election.

Ganjar has consistently fared above Puan in recent popularity polls. All surveys have put him above 10 per cent, with Puan trailing behind with less than 5 per cent of respondents' support.

Indonesia's next presidential election is three years away, but several prominent figures have been gearing up to put out their names as possible candidates.

The 2024 election is attractive to potential contenders because they would not face an incumbent president who would typically have a big political advantage over challengers. Widodo is serving out his second five-year term, and cannot seek re-election under the Indonesian Constitution.

Apparent contenders in the 2024 race are State-Owned Enterprise Minister Erick Thohir, 50, and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, 58, who is also chairman of the country's oldest party Golkar.

Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, 68, who was twice defeated when he ran against Widodo, may also run for a third time.

Outside the Cabinet, besides Ganjar, there are two other ambitious provincial governors who are also eyeing the top post: 52-year old Anies Baswedan, who leads Jakarta and West Java's Ridwan Kamil, 49.

A senior health ministry officer told ST that Anies has outperformed all the other 33 Indonesian provincial governors in managing the pandemic.

The number of active Covid-19 cases in Jakarta is currently 2.5 per cent of the population, much lower than Indonesia's national 5.2 per cent. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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