Indonesian presidential candidates register for next year’s elections as supporters cheer

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Thousands of noisy, flag-waving political supporters created a celebratory atmosphere outside Indonesia’s election commission Thursday as candidates started registering for next year’s elections in the world’s third-largest democracy.

More than 2,400 police were deployed around the General Election Commission compound in Jakarta and roads were blocked around the building, where traffic was snarled as the presidential and vice presidential candidates arrived.

Anies Baswedan, an opposition candidate and former Jakarta governor, was the first to register for the presidential race, alongside his running mate, Muhaimin Iskandar, chairman of the National Awakening Party or PKB.

Ganjar Pranowo, the governing party’s candidate for president and former Central Java governor, registered with his running mate, Muhammad Mahfud, the current top security minister.

The election to succeed President Joko Widodo, who is serving his second and final term, is shaping up as a three-way race.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who lost to Widodo in the last two presidential elections, is expected to run but it’s not clear when he will register as he hasn’t announced his running mate.

The deadline for candidates to register for the legislative and presidential elections on Feb. 14, 2024, is next Wednesday.

Opinion polls forecast a close race between Subianto and Pranowo, while Baswedan is consistently in third place.

Baswedan was education and culture minister before Widodo removed him from the Cabinet in 2016.

He was known as a progressive Muslim intellectual but religious identity politics in the 2017 election for Jakarta governor were seen as distancing him from moderate Muslims. His choice of Iskandar is viewed as an attempt to rebuild that support.

Iskandar’s PKB party has strong ties with Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, which boasts over 45 million members.

“We bring the idea of change to be felt by families in Indonesia. We want basic needs to be affordable. Farmers will have a more prosperous life, fishermen will have a more prosperous life. We want there to be equality of opportunity,” Baswedan said at a news conference at the General Election Commission on Thursday. “The basic idea is that change brings equality and justice.”

Some of Baswedan’s supporters who gathered at the election commission building were from groups that held mass protests in 2016 against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was imprisoned on blasphemy charges after quoting the Quran in a speech. Baswedan galvanized street protests by hundreds of thousands and capitalized on the controversy in his successful run for governor.

Baswedan is not expected to use religious identity politics in next year’s election, said Arya Fernandes, head of the Department of Politics and Social Change at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia.

“At the national level the people’s rejection of the use of identity or the use of religious-based narratives in elections and politics is actually high. So if there is any thought for any candidate to do that, I think it will backfire,” Fernandes said Thursday.

Pranowo was a national legislator for the governing Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDIP, for 10 years before being elected in 2013 for the first of his two terms as Central Java governor.

Widodo praised Pranowo as a leader who is close to the people and “always goes down to the grassroots and is very ideological.”

“We want to develop Indonesia faster and continue the good things that have been done by the current government, to fix what is not good enough and to leave the bad ones,” Pranowo said in a news conference.

Pranowo has faced criticism and a backlash from soccer fans after FIFA earlier this year stripped Indonesia of its right to host the Under-20 World Cup.

He was among those who had voiced opposition to Israel’s participation in the tournament. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Subianto has focused his ultra-nationalistic campaign on what he sees as Indonesia’s weakness in the world relative to its vast land area rich in natural resources and a population of more than 270 million.

A longtime commander in Indonesia’s Kopassus special forces, Subianto was discharged from the military in 1998 after Kopassus soldiers tortured activists who opposed dictator Suharto, his father-in-law.

He went into self-exile in Jordan before returning and founding the Gerindra Party in early 2008.

In the past he worked closely with hard-line Islamists to undermine his opponents, but lost to Widodo in the 2014 and 2019 elections, which were marred by dirty campaigning and wild internet rumors.

Subianto refused to accept both election results but decided to join the Cabinet after Widodo offered him the defense minister position in a bid for unity.

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