History repeats itself as Prabowo looks set to run in 2019

Photo: Joko Widodo official Facebook page

General Prabowo Subianto is shaping up to become Gerindra’s 2019 candidate. His shrewd campaigning abilities make him a fearsome opponent.


History repeats itself. But it does not often repeat itself in the same decade. In Indonesia, it looks like it will do just that. There are strong indicators General Probowo Subianto will run for President in 2019.

In a repeat of the 2014 general election, General Prabowo will challenge Joko Widodo for the presidency. Prabowo’s brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, said in an interview that “all things being equal, he [Prabowo] will run for president next time”. He added, “in the next election, 2019, we’re asking for our turn.”

What will be different this time around?

Just because the 2019 election will have the same candidates does not mean it will resemble 2014. A lot has changed in the five years since the last election.

In 2014, Jokowi was able to capitalise on the fact that he was an outsider. Prabowo had ties to Indonesia’s established political families. This time around it is Jokowi who is the political insider. He will have to campaign on the merit of his term in office rather than as a political outsider with a clean slate.

Where will Prabowo fight Jokowi this time?

Last time, Prabowo fought Jokowi on a populist platform. He pledged to tackle inequality and promote education. But Jokowi has an impressive record in this arena. During his time in office, he has implemented extensive education and healthcare reforms. His infrastructure projects will help tackle inequality between rural and urban areas. He is also exploring more inclusionary town planning instruments to reduce urban inequality. Widodo has kept his “man of the people” image which will counter Probowo’s populist policies.

In 2019, Prabowo will likely focus on the one chink in Widodo’s armour; his economic policy. Jokowi has had limited success in ending Indonesia’s economic reliance on China. China remains Indonesia’s top import and export destination by a large margin. Chinese investment into Indonesia has also rocketed under Jokowi’s leadership. In 2015 it was just US$600 million. One year later the figure stood at US$3.3 billion.

Source: OEC

Jokowi has also failed to meet his 7% target for economic growth. He even had to lower his gross domestic product growth target in the 2018 budget. Economic policy will be a focal point in Prabowo’s campaign to exploit these weaknesses.

Sources: World Bank (I), (II)                                             

Religious and nationalist sentiment will also play a role in 2019

General Prabowo Subianto is a shrewd campaigner. His military past will appeal to nationalist sentiment. He will also know that drawing religion into the elections will damage Widodo.

In the Jakarta gubernatorial election last year, Widodo’s candidate suffered defeat. Gerindra’s preferred candidate swept to victory on the wave of religious fervour.

Since then, Jokowi has banned the Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir. This will alienate hard-line Islamic voters.

If Prabowo can stir up religious sentiment, he may be able to secure the majority of the Islamic vote. This could determine the outcome of the election. More than 87% of the population identify as Muslims.

Despite this, Jokowi will go into the election as the favourite

Initial polls indicate Jokowi has the early advantage. He has support from 64% of Indonesian voters. Prabowo commands support from 27% of the public.

Behind the scenes, Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is making movements to give him an edge going into 2019. It is allegedly making preparations for an alliance with the Democratic Party (PD). Jokowi already has the support of five political parties. They account for 52% of the House of Representatives. An alliance with the PD would give him the support of 60% of the House.

With the early support of the public and the House, Jokowi will be hard to defeat. There are also indicators that the economy will experience a boost going into 2019. Inflation will likely moderate over the course 2018. This will also help Jokowi as the incumbent candidate. It could also soften the impact of Prabowo’s criticism of Jokowi’s handling of the economy.

Gerindra still has until August to finalise its 2019 candidate. However, at this stage, it looks certain Prabowo will receive the nomination. Jokowi may have the edge, but April 2019 is a long way away, and Prabowo is an experienced campaigner. He will fight Widodo tooth and nail for the Presidency. Widodo can expect no easy ride.

This will be a vastly different contest to 2014. It will be the first time the public will judge Widodo on his past achievements. He does not have the image of an outsider to hide behind. With Probowo’s candidacy, this is shaping up to be an exciting campaign. Widodo has a tough 13 months ahead of him.