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Infighting haunts Indonesia's PDI-P as party seeks Jokowi's successor

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Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo speaks to students taking part in a rally to commemorate International Anticorruption Day on Sunday in Semarang, the capital of the Indonesian province. CENTRAL JAVA ADMINISTRATION PRESS BUREAU

Infighting haunts Indonesia's PDI-P as party seeks Jokowi's successor

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the largest faction in the ruling coalition and the party of which President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is a member, is struggling to unify its political strategy to win a post-Jokowi presidency.

Tensions are brewing between Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and House of Representatives speaker Puan Maharani as the two high-profile PDI-P members tacitly compete for the party’s presidential nomination to follow Jokowi, whose term will end in 2024 and who is constitutionally barred from seeking another.

All eyes are on party matriarch and Puan’s mother Megawati Sukarnoputri, who will have to maintain party unity and discipline as she makes the final decision on its presidential nomination and political future.

As the kingmaker who catapulted Jokowi – then the little-known mayor of Surakarta – to the Jakarta governorship in 2012 and to the presidency two years later, Megawati will again face a tough choice: whether to pave the way for another political “outsider” to help the party win the election or to push for her political heir to maintain the Sukarno dynasty’s stranglehold on the party.

On September 30, in the face of internal divisions, Megawati chastised party members who refused to abide by its protocols, saying the PDI-P would not hesitate to fire recalcitrant members.

“If [you find you’re] not on the same page as the PDI-P, step down and hand over the membership card, because the heaviest sanction is dismissal,” she said.

PDI-P secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto previously said the party would not hold back on imposing sanctions on those who declared their intention – or were encouraged by other party members – to run in the upcoming presidential race, after reiterating that the choice of the PDI-P’s presidential candidate was the party chairwoman’s alone.

Many observers see these statements as a warning for Ganjar, who has received a further boost in the past few months as volunteer groups have voiced support for his potential presidential bid, including Ganjar Pranowo (GP) Mania, Teman Ganjar and, most recently, Sahabat Ganjar.

“We have a sense that the threat [of sanctions] was directed at Mas Ganjar, but we are not worried as we know Bu Mega will listen to what the people want,” said Immanuel Ebeenezer, chairman of Ganjar Pranowo Mania, a volunteer group, consisting in large part of Jokowi supporters from the past two elections, that claims not to have spoken to Ganjar.

Ganjar, meanwhile, has remained tight-lipped about any presidential ambitions.

“I’m focusing on my duty handling the Covid-19 [situation]. The 2024 race is the domain of Bu Mega,” Ganjar said recently.

Enjoying a robust but geographically limited base in Central and East Java and with a charisma that has drawn comparisons to Jokowi’s, Ganjar is emerging as the 2024 dark horse.

But his rising popularity has put him in the crosshairs of some party members close to Puan, another top contender for the party’s nomination. The tension was made public in May when Ganjar was not invited by party elites to an internal consolidation meeting in Semarang, Central Java, a longtime party stronghold and the province of which Ganjar is governor. Puan, who spoke at the event, took what many perceived to be a dig at Ganjar.

The rise of Ganjar has posed a challenge for the PDI-P establishment, particularly those loyal to Puan, who represents the elite Sukarno line within the party.

While Ganjar has remained in the top three in electability polls, Puan is languishing with single-digit ratings, even after banners and billboards bearing her face and name were put up throughout the country.

Despite her strong institutional track record, having served as the coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs from 2014 to 2019 and now serving as House speaker, Puan has struggled to win popular support.

Some analysts say an elite persona inherited from her mother is partly to blame for her failure to find support among the voter base of the PDI-P, which was founded on its commitment to the “wong cilik” (little people).

“We can see the personification of the PDI-P more in Ganjar than in Puan,” said Adi Prayitno, a political analyst for Parameter Politik Indonesia. “Ganjar has been approachable, humble and down to earth. He could easily be the face of everyday people. But this is not so with Puan, as aristocracy is part of her [identity].”

A Charta Politika survey carried out from July 12-20 and involving 1,200 respondents found that 55.7 per cent of the PDI-P’s voters would choose Ganjar for the presidency while only 4.8 per cent would choose Puan.

Some analysts, however, have noted that Puan could still have a chance of winning the PDI-P’s nomination if it formed a coalition with the Gerindra Party.

The two parties have maintained close ties. When Gerindra executive board members visited their PDI-P counterparts in August at the PDI-P office in Jakarta, they acknowledged having discussed the 2024 elections in a closed-door meeting.

Megawati demonstrated her willingness to back non-dynastic party members with her decision to hand the party’s presidential nomination to Jokowi in 2014. Questions remain, however, over whether she would be willing to do so again for the 2024 elections.

Wasisto Rahardjo, a political analyst for the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lipi), said that Ganjar’s presidential chances would depend on whether he had influential allies within Megawati’s inner circle. “If Ganjar fails to secure the support of other elites, Megawati will use her prerogative to nominate Puan Maharani,” he said.

Marcus Mietzner, an associate professor at the Australian National University, said Megawati could probably accept another non-dynastic presidential candidate from within the PDI-P but that it would not be Ganjar, as he had shown too much independence and ambition.

“For Megawati, as everyone knows well, a cadre's personal profile or ambition must be fully subordinated to hers. Jokowi understood that in 2013, and he took the appropriate steps, such as kissing her hand. He was ridiculed for that, but it worked,” Marcus said.

“For Ganjar, such stunts would now be too late. Megawati's mind was set against him years ago.”



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