NasDem endorsement of Anies Baswedan: Brilliant ploy or political blunder?
Indonesia’s 2024 presidential race could tighten following a bold move by a small party.
The decision of the Indonesian National Democratic Party (NasDem) to endorse and declare Anies Baswedan as its presidential candidate in October 2022 has raised questions about the party’s justification. NasDem did it a month before it was originally planned; one explanation for the rush could be that NasDem wanted to capitalize on Anies’ popularity before he officially ended his term as governor of Jakarta.
A different interpretation is that NasDem’s nomination of Anies for the 2024 Presidential Election (PE) was a strategic move to protect Anies from “criminalisation”. NasDem probably also wants to ride in the wake of Anies to attract strongholds of its Islamic supporters in West Java, Banten and Sumatra. The official appointment of Anies has given new impetus to supporters of Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, who, like Anies, tops the popularity polls. Ganjar is widely seen as the most likely candidate to defeat Anies in a one-on-one race for the 2024 presidency.
Prior to NasDem’s move, Tempo published a report on “Firli’s Ploy to Catch Anies”. According to this report, Firli Bahuri, head of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), ordered his subordinates to name Anies as a potential suspect in an alleged corrupt activity related to electric car racing. Firli apparently wanted this done before any political party officially declared Anies as their preferred presidential candidate. Following this news, a new hashtag, #SaveAniesBaswedan, appeared on Twitter in Indonesia. Andi Arief of the Democratic Party, for example, suggested that Anies could have been so targeted to prevent him from running for the 2024 EP.
Although the KPK’s charges against Anies remain vague at this stage and no formal charges have been brought, with the KPK even denying that Anies has been declared a suspect, many, including NasDem members, believe the threat to refuse a presidential election of Anies is real. Although NasDem’s declaration of Anies as a presidential candidate will not stop the KPK’s investigation into allegations of corruption in “Formula E”, the electric car racing activity, such an investigation could easily be politicized by opponents of Anies. Conversely, if it is only rumors and if ultimately the KPK has no solid evidence of Anies’ involvement in the alleged corruption, voters might sympathize with him, ironically increasing the eligibility of Anies.
By appointing Anies, NasDem has already had a negative impact on its relations with the Widodo administration. The public currently views Anies as a viable “opposition” figure, unlike Widodo’s past PDI-P. By betting on Anies, a non-partisan figure with significant eligibility, NasDem is likely hoping that Anies supporters would come to see NasDem as a viable alternative to the other major parties contesting the General Election (GE) in 2024.
To this end, NasDem launched a massive media campaign to promote Anies as the party’s presidential candidate. Media mogul Surya Paloh, chairman of NasDem, has relied on his main TV station, MetroTV, putting Anies on billboards and banners in all major Indonesian cities, even though official EP nominations are not yet open. are not expected for several months.
NasDem’s announcement on Anies has now raised Ganjar’s prospects as a serious presidential candidate.
More worrying for the NasDem, his nomination of Anies has already affected the party’s electoral prospects. There are reports of mass resignations by NasDem members in non-Muslim majority areas. These members could show their displeasure with the party elite’s decision, given that Anies’ electoral success in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election was heavily influenced by religion-based identity politics, including his seemingly close relationship with Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq. Shihab and other Islamist actors.
East Nusa Tenggara, North Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua provided NasDem with considerable support in the 2019 elections. However, these provinces have large non-Muslim constituencies. Assuming that NasDem’s support for GE 2024 may be weakened in these regions due to its support for Anies as the PE candidate, an alternative source of future votes could come from religiously conservative provinces with large populations such as West Java, Banten and Sumatra.
NasDem’s announcement on Anies has now raised Ganjar’s prospects as a serious presidential candidate. Prior to NasDem’s statement, there seemed to be an unofficial consensus among the various party elites to nominate their own leaders as their respective EP candidates. Ganjar is now the frontrunner in credible surveys by polling firms such as Indikator Politik, Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), SMRC and CSIS, with Prabowo Subianto and Anies coming in second and third respectively. Ganjar’s statement on October 18 that he was ready to run for president received a milder response from his own party, the Indonesian Struggle Party (PDI-P), compared to his earlier coldness. It is possible that the party leadership will become pragmatically more receptive, not only given NasDem’s decision, but also as the chances of Puan Maharani’s heir apparent continue to fade. Although the odds are still long, Ganjar seems more likely to be PDI-P’s potential candidate to challenge Anies.
Meanwhile, Prabowo’s eligibility dropped following NasDem’s ruling. Many Prabowo supporters appear to have shifted their allegiance to Anies. Even several parties in the “United Indonesia” coalition, including the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PAN), have expressed their support for Ganjar as the preferred presidential candidate. NasDem’s first move to endorse Anies may well be the gamble to force other parties to show their hand.