Joko-who? Prabo-what? The 2019 Indonesian presidential election, explained.

The 2014 presidential race is back with a vengeance. But this time they have new running mates.

Andrew Koay | April 15, 2019, 02:01 AM

Indonesia -- the third largest democracy in the world -- will be heading to the polls to decide who wins the presidential election.

This year, the race features the same two candidates from the previous elections in 2014.

Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo (a.k.a. Jokowi) and former military general, Prabowo Subianto. But much has changed since then, and the two candidates also have new running mates in Ma'ruf Amin and Sandiaga Uno.

Don’t know who any of these guys are?

Well, here’s a crash course on the upcoming Indonesian presidential elections.

Joko Widodo

The 57-year-old former governor of Jakarta won the 2014 presidential elections by a slim margin but is targeting a much bigger winning margin this time around.

Widodo, or Jokowi as he is popularly known, was the first Indonesian president from outside the military or political elite.

A big fan of heavy metal music, he had previously been a carpenter and a furniture businessman before entering into politics.

A Brookings Institution report stated that Jokowi is running his 2019 campaign on his track record in office, such as his achievements in infrastructure development.

According to The Economist, he has spent large on projects to improve and build airports, roads, railways, and power stations.

Such projects have proved to be the hallmark of his time in office.

Jokowi, the hard-hat president. Image from Joko Widodo Facebook.

However, an essay published in the New Mandala also noted Jokowi’s tendency towards “short-term thinking and ad hoc decision making”, which leads to him sometimes acting in “an illiberal or anti-democratic manner”.

One example of this was the president’s banning of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), an Islamist party that seeks to establish a caliphate and sharia law in Indonesia through non-violent means.

This particular move drew criticism from international human rights group Human Right’s Watch, who called the move “a troubling violation of universal rights to freedom of association and expression”.

Nonetheless, Jokowi’s popularity remains high with most pundits predicting electoral victory for him and his running mate...

Ma’ruf Amin

According to CNA, Jokowi’s choice of Ma’ruf Amin -- a conservative Muslim cleric who turned 76 earlier this year -- as his 2019 running mate, took many observers by surprise.

However, it can be interpreted as a concerted effort to undermine accusations that the president is anti-Islamic and win over more conservative Muslim voters.

In the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Ma’ruf is one of Indonesia’s most powerful and influential clerics.

He is also the supreme leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) -- the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia, which claims to have 80 million followers.

Many observers were surprised when Jokowi chose the elderly Muslim cleric as his running mate. Image from Ma'ruf Amin Facebook.

The Jakarta Post reported that Ma’ruf currently chairs the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s top Muslim clerical body comprising all registered Muslim organisations.

MUI is the central authority that issues fatwas -- a ruling on a point of Islamic law.

As chairman of the MUI, Ma’ruf has regularly taken a hard line conservative approach, supporting regulations such as the controversial pornography law, which makes it illegal for individuals to watch any material that the government has loosely defined as pornography.

According to the New York Times, the regulation broadly defines pornography as “any man-made sexual materials in the form of drawings, sketches, illustrations, photographs, text, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, poetry, conversations and gestures”, while also outlawing public performances which could “incite sexual desire”.

How about their opponents? Well, get a load of these guys.

Prabowo Subianto

Having lost in the 2014 presidential elections, former military general Prabowo Subianto, 67, is back for a second shot at Indonesia’s highest office.

In many ways, Prabowo seems like the antithesis of Jokowi -- if the current president had previously been considered a political outsider, his challenger can be seen as the embodiment of the political elite.

According to Al Jazeera, Prabowo’s father served as a finance minister under Sukarno -- Indonesia’s first president -- and then as a trade minister under his successor, Suharto.

Prabowo has often sought to portray himself as a decisive 'strongman' type leader. Image from Prabowo Subianto Facebook.

Prabowo himself attained the rank of Lieutenant General in the military while leading the special forces.

He also married Suharto’s daughter in 1983, before they divorced in 2001.

However, his time in the armed forces has been marred by controversy, with accusations of human rights abuses in East Timor and West Papua.

This culminated in his dismissal from the military after his involvement in the 1998 abduction of nine pro-democracy protesters during the economic crisis-induced unrest that swept across Indonesia.

Brookings Institute has characterised Prabowo’s 2019 platform as a slightly more flaccid version of his 2014 “muscular, nationalist, and ‘confrontational’ populism”.

The Sydney Morning Herald described him as a “strongman” candidate whose campaign rhetoric mirrors that of Donald Trump’s "Make America Great Again" campaign.

Living up to his strongman image, Prabowo has campaigned strongly on issues of corruption and security -- both internal and external.

Yet Prabowo’s stardom in Indonesian politics has somewhat been overshadowed by his running mate…

Sandiaga Uno

The Jakarta Post recently ran a headline that read: “Sandiaga Uno: Backbone of Prabowo’s presidential bid”.

The article claimed that the 2019 election was more about Sandiaga than it was about Prabowo

And while he may not necessarily agree with that sentiment, at the very least Prabowo will be hoping that his new running mate Sandiaga, 49, can help turn the tide and give him an edge that was missing the last time Indonesians hit the polls.

Previously the deputy governor of Jakarta, Sandiaga is well-known for having been on the 2017 ticket that defeated popular Jokowi ally Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, otherwise known as Ahok.

The election had seen conservative Islamists mobilised in response to perceived blasphemous comments made by Ahok.

Advisors believe that Sandiaga will be able to help Prabowo's chances with young people. Image from Sandiaga Uno Facebook.

Before his foray into politics, Sandiaga had been a successful businessman and venture capitalist, frequently making it onto Forbes magazine’s "Indonesia’s 50 richest lists".

He is said to have a net worth of Rp5.1 trillion (S$490 million) and is still a majority shareholder in Saratoga Investama Sedaya, an investment company that he founded.

Sandiaga's campaign has also been marred by controversy, coming under fire when he was announced as Prabowo's running mate after he was accused of paying top officials of parties within the opposition's coalition to approve his status as Prabowo's second in command.

The parties involved have denied this allegation.

Nonetheless, Prabowo’s advisors believe that Sandiaga will be able to make up for the strongman’s lack of appeal with young voters.

Why can't we all get along in the end? Image from Prabowo Subianto Facebook.

So, that's the tale of the tape.

And while most are predicting a win for Jokowi and Ma'ruf, Indonesia is well-known for its election surprises.

Top image from Prabowo Subianto Facebook