Editorial: Is Anies-Muhaimin The Lesser Evil Now?

Editorial Omong-Omong

5 min read

Forget idealism, pragmatism – even Machiavellian mentality –  is the king of Indonesia’s politics. The era of Hatta, Syahrir or Natsir is long gone. But have we arrived at a situation where there is no more lesser evil among the presidential candidates for 2024 because they are all just flatly flawed?    

Indonesia seems to have been cursed into a situation where the people would be forced to choose the least bad apple, or the lesser evil.     

Even in the 2014 and 2019 elections when Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was pitted against Prabowo Subianto and  sharply divided the nation into two camps, for Indonesian voters with common sense, the choice was obvious. For them, Joko Widodo is the lesser evil of the two.

For 2024, it is almost a certainty that the presidential elections will be a three-horse race, with Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan battling it out to take the country’s top job.

While Anies already takes Muhaimin Iskandar, chairman of the National Awakening Party (PKB), as his running-mate and then formally announced their candidacy, Prabowo is still considering between Jokowi’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is now the mayor of Solo, and businessman Erick Thohir, Jokowi’s minister for state enterprises, and Ganjar Pranowo is waiting a decision from Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the party that carries him, on whether they should just join forces with Prabowo, and offer Ganjar as his running-mate, or pick a popular figure, such as West Java governor Ridwan Kamil, to attract voters in the province, a place where PDIP has low electability, or East Java governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa to compete with Muhaimin in grabbing Nahdlatul Ulama’s voters.  

With all factors taken into account – backgrounds, achievements and political process behind their emergence – is Anies-Muhaimin, which forms a coalition of moderate and conservative Islam groups, the lesser evil now for most Indonesian voters? 

Or, are people convinced that a strong and tough guy like Prabowo — regardless of his reputation — is what Indonesia needs in an uncertain time when the law enforcement is weak and corrupt and the police are unreliable with Indonesia’s waning leadership in the region amidst fierce rivalry between the US and China?

Or, can Ganjar be seen as the middle way, a compromise between the two, and hence is the safest bet?

Prabowo: Strong, Decisive & Spontaneous vs Impulsive, Unstable & Rights Violators 

Most surveys have for now put Prabowo as the candidate to beat. But he is still the very same man Jokowi defeated twice out of people’s fear that he would turn into an authoritarian and ultranationalist, driving foreigners out and shutting down any different and critical voices.

Regardless of Jokowi’s full support Prabowo is still the same man with questionable pasts – abduction of activists – and seems ingrained with impulsive nature and can get emotionally uncontrollable out of the blue anytime, anywhere. 

He is still the same man with authoritarian tendencies seemingly without much regard to decency, human rights and humanity values, apparent, for instance, in his shocking “peace proposal” for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. While it was Russia who invaded Ukraine and grabbed the latter territory, Prabowo treated them as equals, proposing that the two sides withdraw 15 kilometres from their current position, instead of asking Russia to return to their own territory.

His impulsive behaviour and recklessness are also clear in his failed food estate project, where he destroyed hectares of forests in Kalimantan, causing floods to the surrounding areas. Meanwhile, rumours about handing out projects in the Defense Ministry to his cronies could also emerge during the campaign period.     

Jokowi’s support will not change Prabowo’s nature but will help him politically, grabbing more support, especially from Jokowi’s die-hard supporters. 

In a time when Indonesians are fed up with Jokowi’s seemingly fake narratives and gimmicks, Prabowo turned out to be seen as spontaneous, tough, strong, brave and authentic. This resonates well among young voters, who have no memories of Prabowo’s action in the past, and prioritise their future economic well-being, such as getting better jobs than things like human rights or long-term issues such as environmental problems.      

Thus, his success depends on retaining his core supporters (he gained around 45 percent or almost 70 million votes in 2019) and gaining new voters from Jokowi’s supporters and first-time voters and generation Z voters (around 50 million people), as well as minimising discourses on human rights, environment and food estate. 

Anies: Proven, Simple & Family Man vs Smooth Talker & Supporters of Conservatism 

While for now, Prabowo is the front-runner according to some surveys, Anies should be the most likeable among the three. Unlike Prabowo, he basically has no big or unforgivable “sin”. He has been unfairly connected to sectarian politics and linked him with the country’s conservative groups, and also, again unfairly, accused of underperforming as Jakarta governor by being alleged of failing to solve the capital’s floods and traffics. This is why he has been labelled by his political foes as can only talk. 

But most, if not all, the accusations are either unproven and baseless or merely stemming from hatred. To be fair, no Jakarta governors have been able to solve the traffic and flood problems satisfactorily. If the past governors are the standard, then Anies has done a decent job, proven by many awards he has won as the governor, including his correct way of handling the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Also, he has proved all the accusers wrong when he could maintain a very inclusive Jakarta during his time as governor, with no single major incident of sectarianism or attacks under his watch.

Is he a smooth talker? Yes, he is. But not in a sense that he can only talk without any meaningful actions. He is just smart enough to explain things in an attractive and simple way to make even the lay persons understand, or at least think they can understand, difficult problems. But in Indonesia, those who are too good at talking can usually be labelled as trying to manipulate or trick others. 

But being able to talk attractively is a strength, not a weakness. It is part of his persona. After all, he was an academic and a rector before being drawn into politics.

The last but strongest point for Anies is the fact that he is a simple and loyal family man, who manages to keep his family intact and successfully brought up his children. He is also a very down-to-earth person who can be captured taking public transportation to go anywhere within the city. He can be seen as just like one of us,  just a man from a middle-class group with a normal family and living a normal life.   

With his coalition’s ability to bring in Muhaimin, the pair has brought together moderate and conservative Muslims in one platform. If smartly managed, this is a powerful political statement that can win a presidency. Bringing in Muhaimin can be a deciding factor as he offers so much to the coalition – money, wit and voters different from Anies’ current supporters.  

The question now is can they be independent, or does Surya Paloh, chairman of Nasdem Party, which carries him, dictates the game? Anies and Muhaimin are too smart to not know the correct answer.   

Ganjar: Charm & Experience vs Underachiever, Mere Party official, No Change 

What Ganjar has is the captive voters for him in the form of PDIP’s almost 20 percent of total national votes, or around 27 million people. Can Ganjar build up from this huge basis?

While there is no doubt about his experience in politics, many still question his achievement as two-term Central Java governor. Living conditions remained stagnant during his watch over one of the nation’s biggest provinces, with major humane and people’s real problems in the province, such as harassment and forced eviction of Wadas people, remaining unsolved. Many see him as taking side with the intruders rather than supporting the people who voted him to governorship.  

For many, it is this simple: Ganjar is the continuation of the current ruling elites. For Indonesia, vote Ganjar then everything will stay the same.

Can his personal charisma overcome all of these narratives? Can PDIP and Megawati Soekarnoputri be flexible enough so that they are not isolated from other political forces? If there is one sure thing, it is the fact that PDIP votes alone can not win the presidency. If failing to adapt, not only does PDIP lose the presidency it can also lose the legislative elections. 

Editorial Omong-Omong

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