Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Golkar to back Jokowi for president

Golkar to back Jokowi for president
Published 15 May 2014 

On Tuesday evening, billionaire businessman Aburizal Bakrie visited Pasar Gembrong, a cramped traditional market in Central Jakarta. He was there to show his support for Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo to become the next president of Indonesia.

The governor, better known as Jokowi, had arrived earlier and was reportedly mobbed by supporters wanting to shake his hand, knocking racks of clothing to the ground. 'Don't push!' warned Jokowi, who had previously visited the market during one of his trademark blusukan visits as governor. 'It's knocking over people's wares.'

Bakrie arrived in a clean white shirt to match Jokowi's. The pair joined hands as Bakrie expressed hope that a coalition between his party, Golkar, and Jokowi's party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), could soon be finalised. 'Insya Allah (God willing) everything has already been agreed on for the coalition,' Bakrie told reporters.

The meeting of the two leaders in the marketplace could mark a turning point for Indonesia's presidential election this July. It signals that Bakrie has given up his presidential and vice presidential ambitions, and his party is now behind Jokowi's campaign.

Jokowi, who is hugely popular, has long been tipped to win the election against the second-placed Prabowo Subianto. He is seen as a clean candidate with a down-to-earth approach to leadership. Bakrie, on the other hand, is hugely unpopular, though his party has strong support across the country. Questions have been raised about potential conflict between his business and political interests. He chairs Golkar, the former political vehicle of authoritarian president Suharto.

Golkar won 14.75% of the vote in last month's legislative elections, coming second to Jokowi's PDI-P with 18.95%, according to the official results released last Friday. Prabowo's party, Gerindra, took only 11.81%.

Bakrie was previously reported to be seeking a coalition with Prabowo, envisioning himself as candidate for either president or vice president. It's unlikely Prabowo would ever have let Bakrie take the presidential ticket, despite his party's better performance in the legislative round. Prabowo's popularity was well above Bakrie's and in the presidential election, voters choose figures, not parties. The vice presidential ticket was also out of the question, as Gerindra feared Bakrie as a running mate would drag down Prabowo's electability.

On Tuesday afternoon, Prabowo held a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Central Jakarta, announcing newly resigned Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa as his running mate for the election. Bakrie took the cue, and within hours was shaking hands with Jokowi at the market. 'What is important, as I have repeatedly explained, is that the president or vice president is just an instrument to achieve people's welfare,' Bakrie told media.

Jokowi is expected to announce his running mate in the coming days. Golkar's pick for Jokowi's running mate is not Bakrie but former vice president Jusuf Kalla. An alternative potential running mate for Jokowi is Abraham Samad, a former anti-corruption activist who now serves as chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

The choice for Jokowi's vice presidential candidate is now between the old guard and the new. Even in a white shirt at Pasar Gembrong, Bakrie represents the old. It will be interesting to see whether Jokowi, with the backing of a powerful party like Golkar, would still dare to choose the new.

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