Prabowo declares he’s ready to run for president in 2019, but rematch with Jokowi still uncertain

Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto. Photo: @Prabowo / Instagram
Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto. Photo: @Prabowo / Instagram

So if you follow Indonesian political news at all you’re already well aware of yesterday’s surprise declaration by Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto at his party’s national convention that he had accepted his party’s nomination and was ready to challenge President Joko Widodo once again in the 2019 election.

It was surprising due in part to mounting signs that the former general might not run after all, but mainly because he himself had said that he would not declare his candidacy at the convention just a few days prior.

However, despite this setting up a likely round two rematch between incumbent and the Gerindra chairman, it would be a mistake to say that Jokowi vs Prabowo round 2 is now a certainty.

That’s because Indonesia’s 2017 Elections Law requires any presidential candidate to meet a threshold requirement of being backed by a political party or coalition of political parties that have at least 20% of the seats in the House of Representative or 25% of the popular vote in the previous election.

That’s a major problem for Prabowo, because Gerindra currently only holds 13% of the seats in Parliament and only received 11.81% of the popular vote in the last national election. Which means Gerindra and any possible Prabowo ticket would need the support of one or more coalition parties.

The most likely coalition candidates are the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN). Leaders from both parties were in attendance at Gerindra’s national convention yesterday to witness Prabowo’s declaration.

PKS has tentatively agreed to team up with Gerindra, which would already put Prabowo above the threshold. However, as recently as today, PKS President Sohibul Iman made clear that their support for any possible Prabowo ticket would be contingent on him picking one of their cadres as his vice presidential candidate.

National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Zulkifli Hasan was even cooler, denying that his  presence at Gerindra’s convention was necessarily a sign that his party was ready to form a coalition.

“Not yet. We’re still far from the Netherlands,” Zulkifli said yesterday as quoted by Detik, invoking an old Indonesian saying meaning it was still too early to discuss.

The two other most likely Prabowo coalition partners would be the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Democratic Party (PD) of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, though the latter has already shown signs that they might potentially join the large coalition backing President Joko Widodo and his PDI-P party, especially if SBY’s son Agus Yudhoyono were to be tapped as Jokowi’s vice president.

But the seeming reluctance of PKS and PAN are most likely due to ongoing negotiations and political horse trading and observers seem to think that, in all likelihood, at least one will back Prabowo in the end.

Even if he does consolidate his coalition when the electoral registration opens in August, Prabowo then faces the challenge of beating the man who already defeated him once in 2014. Recent poll numbers show the former general trailing Jokowi by 20-25 points among likely voters, but he managed to overcome similarly stark numbers in his last matchup against Jokowi to make his defeat a close one. And a lot can happen between now and 2019…

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