President Joko Widodo has now played his part in making this one of the most surprising days in modern Indonesian politics by choosing a running mate for next year’s election that very few predicted he would, even in the minutes leading up to his announcement.
At a press conference this evening at a restaurant in Menteng, Jokowi announced that his running mate would be Ma’ruf Amin, the current head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s highest Islamic clerical body.
“I have decided to run again as a presidential candidate for the 2019-2024 period. This decision is a big responsibility, closely related to the aspirations and dreams of Indonesia to maintain its advancement in development and justice for all,” Jokowi said at the press conference.
“Taking into account the input from various elements of the community, I have decided and received the approval of Koalisi Indonesia Kerja (the new name for Jokowi’s political coalition) that the person who will accompany me as vice president from 2019-2024 is Professor Ma’ruf Amin,” Jokowi said at the meeting.
Ma’ruf Amin is one of the most respected Islamic scholars in Indonesia and currently serves as the head of MUI as well as the chairman of the advisory council of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Islamic organization.
In recent discussions about potential running mates for Joko Widodo, Ma’ruf was rarely considered a real possibility. What makes the announcement especially shocking is that almost every other news story from today prior to Jokowi’s announcement indicated that he would be picking a totally different running mate — former constitutional court judge Mahfud MD.
In fact, Mahfud MD even told the media today that Jokowi had asked him just this morning to be his vice president. He said he had been asked to be on standby since last night and was asked by the president personally today. He also submitted the documents necessary to complete the formal registration process with the Sleman District Court and even said he had gotten a new white shirt tailored for the occasion.
So what gives? Did Jokowi really ask Mahfud MD to be his running mate just this morning only to suddenly have a change of heart? At this moment it’s unclear, but another possibility (one that is purely our own speculation at this point) is that this was some sort of ruse designed to fool Jokowi’s most likely challenger in the 2019 election, Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto, into making a bad decision regarding his own running mate and coalition.
If that was in fact the plan, then it may have worked very well indeed. Prabowo and his coalition were thrown into utter chaos yesterday night after a senior Democratic Party official accused Jakarta Vice Governor Sandiaga Uno had paid two parties close to Gerindra, PAN and PKS, IDR 500 billion (US$35 million) each to be made Prabowo’s running mate.
The explosive allegation led to rancorous infighting among Prabowo’s potential coalition partners, with PAN and PKS fiercely denying the dowry allegation. However, Gerindra officials have indeed indicated that Sandiaga is all but certain to be named Prabowo’s running mate. An official announcement is still expected to be made tonight. The deadline for presidential candidates competing in next year’s election to register is tomorrow.