With the 2024 Indonesian presidential election looming, credible surveys project three front-runner candidates. The first, Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo, represents the status quo and is supported by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the same party as President Joko “Jokowi” Widowo. The second, the current Minister of Defence Prabowo Subianto, is a populist strongman and is supported by the Greater Indonesia Party (Gerindra). The last, former Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, is the opposition candidate and is backed by the National Democrats (NasDem) and two prominent opposition parties, the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
Baswedan became the governor of Jakarta in 2017 after he defeated the Jokowi-backed incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Major English-language daily The Jakarta Post called this election campaign “the dirtiest, most polarising and divisive the nation has ever seen” due to the prevalence of ethno-religious black campaigns. Having become the governor of Jakarta in such a polarising way, it is not surprising that Beswedan has remained the centre of attention and attracted intense scrutiny.
As a candidate, Baswedan is seen as the antithesis of Jokowi. He attracts support from those who oppose the president and conservative Muslim groups. Many believe he will not continue several of Jokowi’s signature programs. Certainly, he pushed for policies that undermined Jokowi’s administration while Governor of Jakarta. Notably during the Covid-19 crisis, he was the first public official to declare an emergency status, preempting the government.
At the time, his track record as the governor of Jakarta is Baswedan’s main weakness. Some experts consider his tenure good enough but others suggest his track record does not stack up well against Ahok, his immediate predecessor. Budget transparency has been a key point of difference, with critics pointing to opaque government procurement processes. There are also accusations of corruption in the fulfillment of affordable zero-deposit housing for his constituents. Critics have called the policy an unrealistic campaign promise that remains unfulfilled. This history will make it hard for Baswedan to present as a straightforward, honest candidate in the eyes of many voters.
The biggest scandal surrounding Baswedan, however, concerns irregularities and alleged corruption that emerged from a Formula E race held in Jakarta in June 2022. Even before the race took place, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) confirmed they had opened an investigation, and in September 2022, the KPK issued a summons for Baswedan to testify. The case is a drag on Baswedan’s popularity and now rumors are circulating that the KPK will indict him.
While many of Baswedan’s detractors – die-hard Jokowi supporters – may welcome an indictment to cut him down a peg, they may not appreciate the full consequences. Credible polls from respected public opinion surveys show that public trust in the KPK is steadily declining, with Indikator showing it now ranked just a few points above Indonesia’s scandal-ridden police force. This is because the previously powerful KPK’s authority has been steadily eroded and it is now seen as having been politicised, with many of its independent investigators ousted. The KPK’s investigation of Baswedan is even seen by some as a strategy to prevent him from running, proof of the Jokowi administration’s hostility towards his candidacy.
A Baswedan indictment could therefore backfire, instead galvanising and mobilising Baswedan supporters. It could validate accusations that Jokowi has become more authoritarian, and increase the risk of violence, with the opposition seeing the government as restricting legitimate political expression and leaving no option but to go to the street.
Baswedan is likely aware of this. He has not been drawn into the brouhaha, simply stressing his belief the KPK can withstand political pressure and pursue his case professionally. Instead, his campaign moves on, and he continues to build support for his candidacy across Indonesia. Opposition parties have likely declared their early support for Baswedan in part at least to prevent the corruption case from derailing his candidacy.
In summary, it is doubtful Baswedan will actually be indicted over the corruption case. And even if he is, the indictment would be interpreted as political by many members of an increasingly cynical public. This would raise the stakes at the next election. It could also fuel a narrative of an authoritarian government that is afraid of Baswedan and prepared to crush all opposition, which could well strengthen his chances of success.