Surprises and Accusations in Indonesian Presidential Nominations

10 August 2018 Jarryd de Haan, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme


Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Gerindra Party leader and former lieutenant-general Prabowo Subianto have both officially declared their candidacy for the 2019 presidential elections. Running for vice-president alongside Jokowi is Ma’ruf Amin, a prominent Indonesian Islamic Scholar. Sandiaga Uno was declared as Prabowo’s vice-presidential candidate pick.


While it was expected that Jokowi and Prabowo both elected to run for presidency, their picks for running mates were surprising. Just hours before Jokowi’s decision, former Constitutional Court chief justice and renowned Muslim thinker Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin (or Mahfud MD, as he more commonly known), was the anticipated pick for Jokowi. On Twitter, Mafhud graciously accepted the decision although did admit that it came as surprise to him as well [in Indonesian]. Prabowo’s running mate was expected to be Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leads the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat). Prabowo’s decision to instead choose Uno led to calls of betrayal from some within the Democratic Party, especially since they had only formed an alliance with Prabowo’s Gerindra party one week prior.

Jokowi’s decision to choose Ma’ruf over Mahfud was a pragmatic one. Ma’ruf is an influential and conservative Muslim figure who plays a leading role in prominent Islamic organisations, including the Indonesian Ulema Council and Nahdlatul Ulama. From Jokowi’s perspective, this nomination will hopefully shield him from accusations that he is too secular and not religious enough. Perhaps most important, however, is Ma’ruf’s role in the Ahok blasphemy case. As an expert witness in the case, Ma’ruf played a key role in sentencing Ahok, a former ally of Jokowi, to jail for blasphemy. Ma’ruf could bring Jokowi more support coming from conservative voters, and may mitigate any potential impact of current Jakarta Governor Anies Baswaden (Ahok’s rival in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial elections), if he chooses to stand for presidency.

Prabowo’s decision to nominate Uno as a running mate is more difficult to read, although Anies Baswaden was reportedly the preferred choice. Uno’s political career has been brief, having begun in 2015. He has, however, been relatively close to Prabowo, has quickly moved up the ranks within the Gerindra party, and was chosen to be the running mate of Anies in the Jakarta election.  He is also one of the wealthiest individuals in Indonesia. His nomination, which has been described as a betrayal of the Democratic Party, has led to allegations that he paid a large political dowry (close to $50 million each) to the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, or PAN) and Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, or PKS). So far, the nomination of Uno has hurt Prabowo’s public image and could widen rifts in the opposition coalition. While Uno allegedly played a pivotal role in Ahok’s incarceration, he is much further removed from the 212 movement than is Ma’ruf.

The possibility of third and fourth candidates putting forward their names is unclear as of writing. There are rumours that some parties may break off their existing alliances and form an Islamic coalition to contest the election. Two possible candidates from such a coalition include Anies and former general Gatot Nurmantyo. The Democratic Party may also break off its short-lived alliance with Gerindra and sponsor Agus as a candidate. That, however, appears less likely because the Democratic Party would seem gain little from such a move.


Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.
Suite 5, 202 Hampden Road, Nedlands WA 6009, Australia.