Could third time be a charm for Prabowo to head Indonesia?

Gerindra Party patron Prabowo Subianto (second left) and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri (centre) smile while taking a selfie with Megawati's daughter and Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani (second right) on the sidelines of the opening of PDI-P's fifth national congress in Bali. - JP

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN): Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto has rarely made headlines beyond issues related to his ministerial duties, ever since he reconciled with his two-time rival President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo after the 2019 election.

He and running mate Sandiaga Uno had joined Jokowi’s Indonesia Onward Cabinet, resulting in a grand coalition that commanded vast political support to realise the government's many ambitions.

But the Gerindra Party patron recently made his way back into the limelight following a surprise appearance on a podcast with a cult following and several political gestures to mend fences with Megawati Soekarnoputri, matron of the ruling Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Political observers are convinced that these beats are part of a larger plot to shore early support for Prabowo in the lead up to the 2024 presidential election.

In an episode of a popular video podcast that aired on Sunday, Prabowo told the polarizing talk show host Deddy Corbuzier of his willingness to enter the race in the next presidential election, although he conceded that it might be difficult for him to win without the backing of other political parties.

“If it is to serve and [I] am given the mandate and the opportunity [to become president], then why not?” Prabowo said during the show.

“[But] we cannot move forward on our own; there has to be support from left and right. It’s not that easy.”

The video podcast was published on YouTube and had garnered more than 8 million views as of Wednesday.

KedaiKOPI executive director Kunto Adi Wibowo said Prabowo’s appearance marked a stark departure from his usually distant public persona.

“Prabowo’s image used to be portrayed as a strict, mysterious and distant leader, so what happened on the podcast – seeing Prabowo speaking freely and candidly – is something newsworthy, ” said Kunto.

“Many people will see it and consider whether they may vote for Prabowo in 2024.”

Despite losing in the 2014 and 2019 presidential races – both times to Jokowi – Prabowo remains a popular figure in Indonesia’s political scene and has increasingly been tipped to mount another election campaign in 2024.

The retired army general’s electability rating stood at 21.5 per cent in a recent survey by Jakarta-based pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC), more than Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, both of whom garnered 12.6 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, from more than 1, 200 poll respondents.

The survey was conducted between May 21 and 28 and has a margin of error of 3.05 per cent.

In another survey by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, Prabowo ranked third below Ganjar and Anies, respectively, with 11.1 per cent of the respondents saying they would vote for him if the election was held in April.

Despite his popularity, SMRC data revealed that Prabowo’s electability ratings had hovered at around 20 per cent since 2015, while other potential contenders such as Ganjar, Anies and West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil had all seen growth in their electability over the past year.

“It’s worth noting that for a three-time election participant who controls his own political party, a 21 per cent electability rating is quite low. It should be much higher, ” SMRC executive director Sirojuddin Abbas told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

“The stagnation [in his electability rating] illustrates that while Prabowo remains quite popular, his voter base did not show significant growth [over the years].”

Prabowo’s surprise remarks came not long after his public attempts to mend ties with PDI-P’s Megawati, prompting speculation that he intended to run in coalition with the current ruling party.

He recently invited the former president to inaugurate a statue of Sukarno, who is both one of the nation’s founding fathers and Megawati’s own father, erected in the Defence Ministry compound in Central Jakarta.

Prabowo also attended Megawati’s awards ceremony for her honorary doctorate in strategic leadership, a title bestowed on June 11 by the state Defence University.

During the ceremony, Megawati said she was rather surprised by the public’s reaction when she recently stated that Prabowo was one of her “close friends”.

The relationship between the two political bigwigs has seen its ups and downs. It appeared to cool after Megawati snubbed Prabowo in favour of nominating then-Jakarta governor Jokowi for the 2014 presidential race.

The move was seen as a betrayal by Megawati, who had signed a pact with Prabowo in 2009 promising PDI-P support for the latter’s election campaign.

However, their ties appeared to have improved since Megawati facilitated the post-election reconciliation in 2019.

Gerindra Party executive Sufmi Dasco Ahmad was quick to deny that Prabowo’s recent moves were efforts to build a coalition with the ruling party. He said the party had yet to broach internal discussions about the 2024 election.

“Gerindra is focused on consolidating its rank and file. There are no formal talks within the party at the moment on coalition-building and the presidential election, ” Dasco told the Post on Tuesday.

He said further that Prabowo’s remarks about another presidential bid hinges on public support, reiterating that Gerindra had yet to reveal its official position on the matter.

The 2017 Elections Law stipulates that a political party or coalition of parties must have secured at least 20 per cent of the seats at the House of Representatives or 25 per cent of the popular vote in the previous election to nominate a candidate pairing in the next election.

As the only party which secured more than 20 per cent seats at the House, PDI-P has the advantage of nominating its own candidates.

Gerindra, meanwhile, has to enter into a coalition with other parties, considering they only currently occupy 13 per cent of House seats.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Wasisto Raharjo Jati predicted that with Gerindra’s entry into the government coalition, the Prabowo-led party will likely become more moderate and therefore more flexible in building a coalition for the next election.

Gerindra had previously courted Indonesia's rightwing politicians, including parties with a more conservative religious bent and civil society groups known for controversy.

“With Prabowo’s ministerial position, it will change the general trend of the party’s culture to become more moderate and this will allow them to become more flexible in seeking out coalition [partners], ” Wasisto said on Tuesday.

However, Prabowo’s presidential ambition could still suffer a major blow if a constitutional amendment to extend the presidential term limit was realized, said the academic.

“It would automatically close the doors on any opportunity for him to either become a presidential candidate or a potential kingmaker, because the public’s [attention] will be directed at the incumbent, ” he said.

Talks about extending the presidential term limit has continued to persist after Jokowi won reelection in 2019, with former People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker Amien Rais accusing in March that there was a plan to amend the constitution to allow presidents and vice presidents be elected for a third term.

Jokowi, however, has repeatedly refused to entertain the idea, reiterating that he had “no intention” on becoming a three-term president. - The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

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