[Updated December 28, 10:45 a.m.]
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo to the Presidential Palace for an unscheduled meeting to discuss the general election preparations on Friday, in a move seen by many as a political approach ahead of next year’s biggest democratic event.
“We talked about 2014, the preparations for the general elections to follow it up, the supervise of the election and the monitoring of the KPU [General Elections Committee],” Joko said in a press conference after the one-hour meeting with the president at the palace.
Asked if the governor and the president had discussed presidential candidates, Joko said the talk was only about preparations for the general elections as well as issues relating to Jakarta.
Joko also declined to comment for being the third presidential candidate that met with the president this week, after Prabowo Subianto and Yusril Ihza Mahendra.
“It was just about matters related to Jakarta. If you want to know about politics, better you speak with Ibu Mega,” said Joko, referring to Megawati Soekarnoputri, the leader of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which backed Joko in last year’s gubernatorial election.
“The president asked many questions related to Jakarta’s problems such as floods, measures to overcome traffic congestion and general questions about the city’s aesthetics,” he added.
Joko said that the meeting was special because since he and Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had been elected to head the capital, the president had never called them for a meeting.
Joko said that Basuki had initially planned to accompany him to meet with the president but canceled it because he had to take care of other matters.
The president told Joko that he could ask for help from ministries if he encountered any problem in his duties. The governor told the president that he was already getting support from the central government.
Prabowo, Yusril meetings
Yudhoyono has met with three national figures who could feature in the upcoming presidential race.
On Tuesday, SBY invited Prabowo, chief patron of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), and Yusril, chairman of Crescent Star Party.
Joko has regularly appeared at the top of opinion polls as the person most people would vote for as the next president. But he has consistently refused to admit he will be running in 2014, citing unfinished business as governor of Jakarta.
This year has been a challenging year for major political parties due to the inappropriate actions of leaders, and that has changed the political landscape.
What makes the upcoming elections different compared to previous ones is that this time politics has become unpredictable. Big political parties that once dominated the scene are no longer automatically the favorites, following various high-profile scandals that have marred their reputations.
Older presidential candidates who were defeated by Yudhoyono in the last election, like Jusuf Kalla and Wiranto, now have to face a potential candidate in Joko, who won the Jakarta gubernatorial race despite being a resident of Solo, Central Java.
To measure the strengths of election contenders, the Indonesian public has to take into consideration many surveys conducted by polling institutions.
M. Qodari, executive director of Indobarometer, said that based on various surveys so far, the 2014 general elections would likely produce three to four big political parties that would garner votes of more than 10 percent each.
The four political parties would likely be PDI-P, Golkar Party, Gerindra and the Democratic Party.
Qodari said Gerindra has shown steady growth since the 2009 general elections, while the Democrats could well count on residual support despite continued poor poll results.
Recent polls, though, suggest voters are less than impressed with the candidates the Democrats have put forward for nomination at its national convention.
Qodari said PDI-P and Golkar would likely be the strongest parties going into the polls in part because of the familiarity of their name but also because of their strong foundations at the grassroots level.
Golkar has been firm about nominating its chairman, businessman Aburizal Bakrie, as a presidential candidate despite the steady rumbling of dissent by some party members, including party stalwart Akbar Tanjung. At the same time PDI-P is still in the process of deciding who its president and vice presidential candidates will be.
Within the PDI-P the names of candidates have been narrowed to Megawati and Joko, and the members of the party are divided about their choice.
Megawati’s late husband, Taufiq Kiemas, had often called on her to step aside and allow younger party members to take up the mantle of leadership. But with his passing and the rise of Joko, that debate seems to have subsided.
Joko has become the nation and media’s favorite politician since striding to victory in the Jakarta gubernatorial election. His “down-to-earth” persona has struck a chord with voters who have been put off by the perceived arrogance and high-handedness of most politicians.
The final decision on whether Joko will run will be Megawati’s, after party members decided at this year’s congress that she would have the final say on the party’s presidential candidate.
A survey by Indobarometer, though, suggested that PDI-P would only win the presidential election if it nominated Joko as president. On the other hand, the party would lose if Megawati ran as president.
Within the party there is an awareness that with Megawati as its leader, PDI-P has never won a direct presidential election, losing in 2004 and 2009.
“Among PDI-P members, the percentage of those choosing Joko is more solid than those for Megawati. If the presidential candidate is Joko, 76.8 percent of PDI-P voters would vote for Joko while just 46.4 percent would vote for Megawati,” said Qodari.
With Joko, PDI-P has the momentum
Voicing similar opinion, Arya Fernandez, a political analyst at Charta Politika, believes the PDI-P has a big chance of winning the general election provided there are no conflicts among the party elite and the members working together effectively.
Arya said that Joko’s early nomination would help the party win the legislative election in April and that it was unfortunate that Megawati has still not made up her mind about nominating Joko.
“Megawati is aware of Joko’s popularity, but she has her sights on being president again,” said Arya.
“But Megawati is still reluctant about giving the ticket to Joko. The longer she holds off making a decision then the more likely it is the ‘Joko Effect’ in the polls will slip away, and we could see the likes of Prabowo and his Gerindra take advantage.”
The House of Representatives and the government have worked hard to select members of KPU and Elections Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) by choosing young figures with promising track records.
The Election Organizers Ethics Council (DKPP) is also headed by Jimly Asshidiqie, a widely respected figure deemed to be firm and decisive in taking action against people whom he considers to have violated regulations.
Given such facts, Ray Rangkuti of the Indonesian Civil Circle (Lima), said that the 2014 general elections have been well prepared.
“There is a KPU and now DKPP. Then there is also Bawaslu whose authority has been increased,” said Ray on Friday.
The only thing that the public needs to worry about is the Constitutional Court (MK) because it is an institution responsible for resolving any election dispute, he said.
Ray said that the arrest of disgraced MK chief justice Akil Mochtar by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for allegedly taking bribes in regional election disputes has created a negative sentiment toward the independence and fairness of MK’s rulings ahead of next year.
‘A critical situation’
“This is a critical situation,” he said. People need to know the court with oversight of the election process was clean and could not be manipulated and regaining that trust could take time, he added.
Ray said that in terms of regulations and preparation the court is still able to function. The most important thing was the capability of the personnel of each institution involved in the general elections, he said.
He cited an example of KPU members who have repeatedly received reprimands from DKPP relating to their performance and wrong decisions in several areas such as in the verification process of election participants and the planned cooperation with the National Encryption Agency which was eventually aborted.
With popular support seemingly coalescing around the big four parties, PDI-P, Gerindra, Golkar and Democrats, the Islamic-based parties are facing a further drop in their support in 2014.
The beef import scandal quota has hurt the largest of the Islamic parties, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) the most.
Former party chief, Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, was recently sentenced to 16 years in jail for attempting to abuse the beef import quota to favor certain parties.
In the 2009 legislative elections, the PKS received more than 8 million votes, making it the fourth most popular party behind the Democrats, Golkar and PDI-P.
However, the rise of Gerindra, which only received 4.6 million votes in 2009, plus the scandals circulating the party are likely to dent support for the PKS.