Challenger lags incumbent in most national surveys but analysts say his supporters are better organised and can mobilise block voting.
Jakarta, Indonesia - In the months leading to the April 2017 race for governor in Jakarta, incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, looked unbeatable.
At least two surveys showed the ally of President Joko Widodo had approval ratings at around 70 percent, with no serious challenger in sight. As the deadline for filing out nominations approached, his opponents had to scramble to make sure they were in on time.
Then the first round of voting in February 2017 came, Ahok emerged on top in a three-way race. But by the second round two months later, his numbers had collapsed and he lost to Anies Baswedan by a margin of 16 percent.
Analysts attributed Ahok’s defeat to several elements including his personal likability, electoral alliances and identity politics. They said some of those same factors could come in play once again in the April 17 presidential contest, delivering an upset win to opposition candidate, Prabowo Subianto, over the incumbent president, who is also known as Jokowi. Prabowo is an ally of Anies.
The are 193 million eligible voters in Indonesia, and an estimated 70 percent are expected to turn out on Wednesday.
In an interview with TRT World, Ledia Hanifa Ustadzah, a spokesperson for Prabowo, expressed confidence that he would win, saying the opposition leader has the momentum.
“There is a big difference between 2014 and this year. More people are rallying to support Mr Prabowo, because they want change, and that they believe he will bring positive change for them,” she said, citing internal polling that shows a “significant increase” in Prabowo’s electability.
Recently, Prabowo’s campaign said that his electability has increased to 62 percent against Jokowi’s 38 percent. Those results were disputed by Jokowi’s campaign.
In contrast, another survey cited by the Jakarta Post, showed Jokowi’s electability at 56.8 percent against the former general’s 37 percent between April 5 and 8.
The 2019 race is a replay of the 2014 elections, when Jokowi narrowly defeated Prabowo.
“We believe that Mr Prabowo will win in the election this time,” Ledia, who is a member of Indonesia’s House of Representatives, said, adding that the opposition candidate is strongest in Jakarta and West Java. The current governor of Jakarta, Anies is an ally of Prabowo.
Ledia also predicted that a large number of undecided voters will support Prabowo.
“They will decide in the last three days before the elections. And the last debate on Saturday is boosting the preference of the undecided voters in our favour,” she said. “So the last three days are very crucial.”
It's about the economy
Ledia also said that jobs and economy could be a deciding issue on Wednesday for many voters.
In a nod to the economy, Prabowo picked as his running-mate, Sandiaga Uno, a 49-year-old businessman and banker.
Indonesia has posted an average of five percent GDP growth during Jokowi’s time in office. But that is below the seven percent growth he promised in 2014, when he sought the presidency. The trade deficit has also ballooned to $8 billion and foreign direct investments are down almost nine percent in 2018.
Saiful Anwar, a 30-year old restaurant worker, told TRT World that the economy is his number one concern when he casts his ballot on April 17.
Saiful, who is from south Jakarta, did not reveal his presidential choice, but said his family is in a worse situation financially at present than five years ago.
Zuhad Aji Firmantoro is the chairman of Indonesia’s Muslim Students Association, the oldest non-partisan student organisation, which promotes democracy and social justice in the country.
He said that as much as Jokowi leads in most surveys, it is “very possible” that Prabowo could win the race, saying he has more devoted followers who will definitely vote.
“Prabowo has also won the endorsement of the three most influential preachers in the country, including Abdul Somad, who has a very large following,” Zuhad told TRT World.
“They are very well-organised and they can mobilise their people to support Prabowo on election day,” he said.
Jokowi has countered Prabowo’s strategy by naming Ma’ruf Amin, also a prominent preacher , as his running-mate. But that would have “no significant” effect among the more conservative electorate, because of the image of Jokowi himself, who is seen as more secular, said Zuhad.
Disinformation campaigns have targeted Jokowi, claiming that he is a communist and that he will ban the call to prayer and allow same-sex marriage, allegations that his campaign has denied. Jokowi is a practicing Muslim.
Maulina Ulfa, a Jakarta-based journalist, told TRT that the “intense rhetoric” surrounding this year’s campaign shows “a healthy and thriving democracy in our country”, even as she worries about the effects of "fake news" on voters.
She said that as an incumbent, she expects Jokowi to “deliver victory.”
Maulina predicted that Jokowi will perform best in his traditional stronghold of East and Central Java as well as Sulawesi and Kalimantan.
“But you cannot discount Prabowo. There are still a handful of undecided voters,” she said. “Also, don’t forget that there are an increasing number of people who are abstaining from voting. So that might also sway the final outcome of the election.”