Joko Widodo (Jokowi):

Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, has been Jakarta’s governor since September 2012.  For most of that time, he has been informally considered a potential nominee for the presidency. His popularity in the opinion polls exceeds that of all other Indonesian politicians, including his benefactor in PDI-P, Megawati Sukarnoputri. 

On March 14, 2014, three weeks before parliamentary elections, PDI-P officially nominated its biggest star as its presidential candidate, and Jokowi began his election campaign.

In the two rounds of elections for the governorship of Jakarta, Jokowi—who had previously been a successful and highly popular mayor of Surakarta, a city in Central Java—defeated a well-connected incumbent who enjoyed the support of a broad swathe of Indonesian political parties. His election, seemingly against all odds, heralded the rise of a new kind of politician in Indonesia: a humble man of the people, completely untarnished by corruption, with the ability to get things done.

As mayor of Surakarta, Jokowi revitalized the medium-sized city, transforming it into a cultural and business hub with more public spaces and increased community involvement. He is known for his impromptu visits to slums and government offices and his endearingly down-to-earth personality. 

Jokowi’s election as governor of Jakarta was also noteworthy because Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (or “Ahok”), his running mate and now deputy governor, is a member of two minority groups: he is Chinese Indonesian and a Christian. Whether Jokowi and Ahok can fix Jakarta’s (very challenging) infrastructure, drinking water, and flood problems remains to be seen, but they appear to have made a promising start, a fact that adds to Jokowi’s allure as a presidential candidate.

Throughout 2013, Jokowi's poll results set him apart from other potential or actual contenders from all other parties—he won almost every poll in which his name appeared on the list of possible candidates. Several large parties sought Jokowi as a possible presidential or vice presidential candidate, but his loyalty to PDI-P never wavered. This loyalty has now apparently been rewarded, as has the vociferous petitioning on his behalf from PDI-P members, such as the Jokowi for President Volunteer Group.

In 2004, Indonesia saw another newcomer—Yudhoyono—emerge suddenly and take the election by storm. This may happen again in 2014 with Jokowi. With Jokowi as the face of the campaign, PDI-P is likely to win a sufficient number of seats in the parliamentary elections to nominate him without forming a coalition with other parties.

If his poll numbers hold up, it is very likely that Jokowi will win the July presidential election.  His days of focusing on governing Jakarta while deferring to "Ibu Mega," as Megawati is known, are over—but now Jokowi has a target on his back.  

Prabowo Subianto

Former lieutenant general Prabowo Subianto is another front-runner in the presidential race. This is not the first time that Prabowo has sought the presidency; he was a contender to be Golkar’s candidate in 2004 but lost in the final round of the party’s convention to former commander of the Indonesian military Wiranto. And in the lead-up to the 2009 elections, Prabowo established his own party, Gerindra, to support his (eventually unsuccessful) presidential run. 

While in the armed forces, Prabowo commanded two elite units, Kopassus and Kostrad. He was suspected of being responsible for human rights abuses in East Timor as well as during the 1998 riots in Jakarta, which cast a pall over his political ambitions and prompted the United States to deny him a visa in 2000. As part of the campaign to promote his candidacy for president in 2014, Gerindra has tried to remake his image, citing Prabowo’s commitment to religious and ethnic plurality and his decisive managerial style, which contrasts sharply with the incumbent president’s reputation for indecisiveness. 

It is clear that Prabowo believes in strong leadership. He has often lamented the current weakness of the Indonesian state apparatus, citing the need for a “better-guided democracy.” In many ways, his candidacy promises a return to the Suharto days—and his (now-ended) marriage to one of Suharto’s daughters subliminally strengthened that link. His tough anticorruption stance, when combined with lingering nostalgia for the Suharto era, taps into a reservoir of voters that have become disillusioned with the slow pace of change under Yudhoyono. The question is whether this strong leadership will come at the expense of Indonesia’s hard-fought democratic processes and protection of human rights. 

Although he has been making a solid showing in opinion polls, Prabowo faces an uphill battle in the presidential elections. The first challenge is that his political party, Gerindra, is small. If Gerindra does not reach the threshold for nominating a presidential candidate, Prabowo will need to seek coalition members to clear his path to the presidency. Being a pragmatist, he will have little compunction in doing so. The question is which parties would find him an acceptable candidate.

Given his old ties with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is currently chairwoman of PDI-P—he joined her 2009 ticket as her vice presidential running mate—he might have hoped to become PDI-P's candidate. Now that PDI-P has confirmed that it will nominate Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo ("Jokowi"), Prabowo has accused Megawati and PDI-P of breaking an earlier pact to support his bid in 2014. Since Jokowi has consistently topped opinion polls, Prabowo has a lot of work to do to make his presidential dream a reality. 

Aburizal Bakrie:

Aburizal Bakrie, one of three brothers who inherited the Bakrie Group conglomerate from their father, is Golkar’s current presidential candidate. He is Indonesia’s most prominent pribumi, or native Indonesian, businessman and was once one of its richest men. As chairman of the Bakrie Group from 1999 to 2004, Bakrie led the financial restructuring of the conglomerate and revived its fortunes following the devastating effects of the Asian financial crisis.

Bakrie made his entrance into politics in 2004 when Yudhoyono appointed him coordinating minister for the economy. He became a strong advocate for fiscally conservative economic policies and championed an increase in fuel prices in 2005. Immediately after the fuel price hike, Bakrie was given the position of coordinating minister for people’s welfare. He left the cabinet in 2009 to become chairman of Golkar but maintains close ties to Yudhoyono, who kept him on as deputy chief of the ruling coalition.

As a 2014 presidential candidate, Bakrie often polls below Prabowo and Megawati, even though Golkar is projected to do well in the legislative elections. To improve his visibility and reputation, Bakrie is traveling the country to meet with people, explain his political philosophy, and rally support. 

Casting a long shadow over his candidacy has been the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster in eastern Java, where a mud volcano has been erupting since 2006. The catastrophe was widely blamed on negligence by Lapindo Brantas, an oil and gas exploration company partly controlled by the Bakrie Group, although the company claims that an earthquake was the cause. 

Even though Bakrie has been the party’s nominee since 2012, there have been recent calls by rival politicians from within Golkar to reconsider his nomination. Unlike the Democratic Party and PDI-P, Golkar has many potential leaders, all of whom could make a credible claim to leadership. One such leader is Jusuf Kalla, vice president of Indonesia during Yudhoyono’s first administration and Golkar’s nominee for president in the 2009 elections. Unlike Bakrie, however, none of these potential candidates has the financial heft to bankroll Golkar’s election expenses, although the Bakrie Group has recently experienced financial travails that have called into question whether it can afford to continue Golkar’s high-intensity campaign undiminished for another nine months. 

Megawati Sukarnoputri:

Of all the politicians considered possible candidates in 2014, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri has been in national politics the longest. In addition to being president from 2001 to 2004 after having taken over from the impeached Abdurrahman Wahid, she has been chairwoman of PDI-P since its creation in 1998 and contested the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections. 

By virtue of being the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia’s popular first president and the “father of the nation,” Megawati became the face of the opposition in the last ten years of Suharto’s rule. She is very different from her firebrand father, however, and has typically used her control over PDI-P and its parliamentarians to implement conservative, occasionally even reactionary, policies. She deserves credit for having taken steps to stabilize the economic and political landscape when she served as president, but she did not convince the public that she was a reformer, nor did she show much interest in reaching out to voters. 

In some ways, Megawati has been more forceful as the chair of PDI-P than she was as president. She lost the presidential race twice to Yudhoyono and seems to have embraced her role as his loyal opposition, forbidding any PDI-P member from joining the Yudhoyono cabinet. She still wields considerable influence and enjoys broad popularity, and she even led a few opinion polls on the question of who would be the next president. 

As chairwoman of PDI-P, Megawati has the final say over the party's nominee. Until recently, some suspected she would once again run herself and tap Jokowi, the governor of Jakarta, as her vice presidential running mate. However, she faced significant pressure from PDI-P's own ranks to give the party's next generation of politicians a chance.

On March 14, Megawati stepped aside and PDI-P nominated Jokowi as its presidential candidate, hoping his popularity would boost the party's results in the parliamentary elections on April 9. Megawati has compared Jokowi's qualities to those of her own father, acknowledging that he has the "people's touch" that her father possessed but she lacks.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the first president in Indonesia to be reelected after former president Suharto, who headed a centralized, authoritarian government for three decades and was forced out following violent protests in 1998. 

As president, Yudhoyono has improved Indonesia’s international profile, presided over an economy that averaged almost 6 percent annual growth during his two terms, brought the decades-long insurgency in Aceh Province to an end, and lowered the temperature in the country’s other major insurgency in Papua Province.

Before joining politics, Yudhoyono was a general in the Indonesian armed forces. His reputation as a moderate and a reformer who favored separating the military from politics while being tough on terrorism made him popular at home and abroad. In 2004, Yudhoyono was elected president after a runoff in the second round despite opposition by Indonesia’s two largest parties, Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P). In 2009, Yudhoyono won the presidential election in a landslide with a larger ruling coalition.

Yudhoyono’s star has dimmed somewhat in his second term. He was unable or unwilling to use his definitive victory in 2009 to drive through important political and economic reforms, and his indecisiveness has made it difficult to discipline his own cabinet and parliamentary coalition. He succumbed to pressure to remove his highly popular finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who was instrumental in crafting the economic policies that were so successful in Yudhoyono’s first term and whose crusade against corruption was bearing fruit. The president’s own Democratic Party has also been rocked by corruption allegations that have further tarnished Yudhoyono’s reputation. 

Although he is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, Yudhoyono has remained politically active by being heavily involved in designing an innovative process for selecting a new candidate to represent the Democratic Party. He resumed the chairmanship of the party in 2013 after its previous chair, Anas Urbaningrum, was named a corruption suspect. Yudhoyono has breathed new life into the party, which has now assembled from its ranks a short list of eleven potential presidential candidates for the 2014 elections—one of whom is Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law—from which it will select one. By taking a proactive stance in the affairs of the Democratic Party, Yudhoyono has not only signaled that he wants to stay in control but also positioned himself as a future kingmaker.


Updated: March 18, 2014