Sandiaga Uno: A 2024 hopeful?

Photo: Anterin

Indonesian rising star politician, Sandiaga Uno, has successfully brought himself onto the country’s political stage. Is he now a serious contender for the top seat in 2024?

Editorial

The dust on the 2019 election has yet to settle, but the next presidential election, which is still five years away, has already drawn whispers from political soothsayers. One of the names being uttered is that of the 49-year old businessman-turned-politician and vice-presidential candidate to Prabowo Subianto, Sandiaga “Sandi” Uno.

Still relatively new to politics, Sandiaga Uno entered the political fray when he became the vice-governor of Jakarta in 2017. Before taking up the post, Uno was a successful businessman, running one of the largest investment company in the country.

Barely a year later, he took his political career to the next level when he was selected as Prabowo’s presidential running mate against Jokowi. His appointment was seen as an attempt to soften public perceptions that the Prabowo campaign had become too closely associated with hard-line Muslim elements. Sandi is seen as a moderate Muslim and a progressive.

The two-term limit provides an opportunity for up and coming politicians

The result of the recent election is currently being contested in the constitutional court. If the result stands, Joko Widodo will serve his second and last term as the president of the country. The ruling will be announced on June 28.

With no incumbent running in the next election, the battle for the top seat is wide and open.

Ben Bland, the director of the Southeast Asian project with the Lowy Institute in Australia argued that “Sandiaga Uno clearly has ambitions to run for the highest office and he has used his vice-presidential campaign to build an impressive national profile that will support any later run for the presidency.”

When put to the vice governor himself in a TV interview, Sandiaga Uno did not rule out a run. He said he wanted to continue to work for the people of Indonesia.

Sandiaga Uno is popular on both sides of the aisle

Even though Sandi was running against Jokowi, he is still popular amongst Jokowi’s voters and has already expressed a willingness to work with Widodo following his election victory.

Jokowi’s supporters have repeatedly given their support for Sandi on social media platforms

A viral image of Sandiaga Uno’s dour expression as Prabowo claimed victory with 54% of the votes (going against the official result) suggested that the businessman may not have fully supported the decision.

“Normally he’s full of energy and smiling, that’s his trademark. He looked like he was attending a funeral,” said Greg Barton, chair of Global Islamic Politics at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization.

Sandiaga Uno ticks many of the boxes for a successful run in 2024

Like Jokowi, Sandiaga Uno also has a clean record, with no ties to the “old guards” of the Suharto dictatorship.

His position as a successful businessman also appeals to many young voters. Sandiaga Uno has also amassed a vast personal wealth and proven his ability to raise capital in an election campaign.

In 2013, Forbes Magazine named Uno as the 47th richest man in Indonesia, with a net worth of US$636 million. Reports indicate that Uno spent around US$100 million on his and Prabowo’s campaign to unseat Jokowi.

His response to the upcoming ruling is crucial in his road to the presidency

Sandiaga’s chance does not come without a potential obstacle. Following the riots over Jokowi’s confirmation, Sandi’s affiliation with Prabowo could alienate parts of Jokowi’s voter base. Prabowo’s refusal to concede only served to fuel political divisions.

On the other hand, had Sandiaga distanced himself from Prabowo and criticised his decision to contest the election, he may have risked losing the support of the retired general’s base, the same base that got him elected as vice-governor in 2017.

Prabowo has a slim chance of winning the court ruling. But that being said, many of Prabowo’s hardcore supporters will never accept a defeat.

Uno’s response to the upcoming ruling could be a deal breaker. He needs to cultivate a national profile that can bring in support from both sides. Avoiding the post-election mudslinging will be key.

The next election is still five years away. That is plenty of time to build or break a political career.