Megawati Soekarnoputri, chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and President Joko Widodo were both present at the announcement of Ganjar Pranowo’s presidential candidacy on 21 April. Photo by Antara.

Megawati Soekarnoputri, chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), ended months of speculation on 21 April, when she formally nominated the current governor of Central Java, Ganjar Pranowo, as the party’s candidate for the 2024 presidential elections. 

The nomination event was carefully choreographed, with Megawati symbolically presenting Ganjar with a black songkok – most famously worn by her father, Indonesia’s first president Soekarno. The black cap has become a symbol of the secular nationalist movement in Indonesia, championed by PDI-P. 

Standing to her side in a show of unity was the current president of Indonesia, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who was first anointed by Megawati as a PDI-P presidential candidate in 2014. Although Indonesia’s constitution prevents Jokowi from seeking a third term as President, his endorsement is highly sought after. Jokowi’s popularity remains extraordinarily high – he posted a record approval rating of 73.1% in March 2023.  

A second Jokowi? 

In fact, Ganjar shares much in common with Jokowi – both originate from outside Indonesia’s political establishment. Ganjar, the fifth born child of a Javanese police officer, hails from a village near Solo in Central Java, the city where Widodo first rose to prominence as mayor. Both Ganjar and Jokowi studied at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, where Ganjar first became active in student politics. He went on to also win a master in political science degree from the University of Indonesia.  

Like Jokowi, Ganjar has a track record of success in regional politics, serving two terms as Governor of Central Java. His performance as governor helped thrust him into the national spotlight, with his electability rising to 35% in February 2023. 

Ganjar’s natural charisma and humble origins have allowed him to carry forward Jokowi’s brand of grassroots political popularism. He has adopted Jokowi’s signature blusukan leadership, conducting unannounced visits to public spaces where he reviews public programs and hears the everyday concerns of local people. At a youthful 54 years of age, Ganjar connects with younger voters and is able to project an authentic presence on social media. This has helped him build a large following on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. 

But in other areas, Ganjar fails to stack up against Jokowi. Unlike Jokowi, he is a product of the PDIP party machine. Despite his relative youth, Ganjar had only a brief career as a human resources consultant before entering politics. Without Jokowi’s rags to riches story of business success, it is harder for Ganjar to project the same brand of competence and experience. 

Ganjar’s political career has also not been without controversy. Working his way up through the party ranks, Ganjar first entered Indonesia’s house of representatives (DPR) in 2004. At a hearing in 2018, Setya Novanto accused Ganjar of benefiting from the electronic identity document corruption scandal while he was a sitting DPR member – although no instances of corruption were proven against Ganjar.  

Ganjar has also attracted criticism from environmentalists – most notably for failing to intervene in the construction of a cement factory in the Kendeng Mountains and a dam in Wadas Village, despite strong opposition from local community and environmental groups. 

Ganjar was implicated in further controversy this year, when PDI-P’s hard stance on Israel led to the cancellation of Indonesia’s hosting of the Under-20 football world cup.  While the decision was ultimately taken in response to the governor of Bali’s refusal to host the Israeli football team, Ganjar had earlier voiced his opposition to Israel’s participation in the tournament – reportedly after receiving direct orders from the party. Several pollsters have since noted a decline in Ganjar’s electability, with the Indonesian Political Indicator survey recording a drop from 27.7% in March 2023 to 19.8% in April 2023.  

One big happy family? 

There is no doubt that a united PDI-P is a force to be reckoned with. It holds 128 seats in Indonesia’s lower house, the People’s Representative Council (DPR). This means it has the luxury of being able to nominate a presidential candidate without forming a coalition with other parties, because its members constitute over 20% of the DPR, thus meeting the threshold. 

The presence of both Jokowi and Megawati at Ganjar’s nomination no doubt boosted his election day chances, but it is getting harder for PDI-P to maintain a façade of unity. 

It is no secret that Ganjar was not Megawati’s first choice. She had hoped to nominate her daughter Puan Maharani as the PDI-P candidate. She caused a stir at the PDI-P 50th anniversary celebrations on 10 January 2023 when she failed to mention Ganjar in a long speech, despite mounting pressure for PDI-P to announce a candidate. Some pundits have even suggested PDI-P’s hard stance on Israel’s participation in the Under-20 world cup – and the subsequent scapegoating of Ganjar – may have been an act of sabotage. 

Moreover, Jokowi also shows no signs of slipping quietly into retirement. He wants to ensure the major policies of his era, most notably Indonesia’s new planned capital city, continue and he recently stated he will remain engaged in the 2024 elections “for the good of the country”. Despite declaring his early support for Ganjar, the Jokowi camp seems to have cooled on PDI-P and the man he once touted as his ‘white-haired successor 

Gibran Rakabuming Raka – Jokowi’s son and the current mayor of Solo – recently upset the PDI-P establishment when he held talks with another presidential hopeful, Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi’s current minister of defence. Jokowi is attempting to bring Ganjar and Prabowo on to the one ticket as part of a grand coalition in 2024. 

Ganjar will be left in a precarious position if this coalition does not materialise. A fallout between Jokowi and Megawati would force him to pick sides – and this could be fatal to his presidential bid. Megawati brings with her party influence and resources. Jokowi brings with him the public support that underpins PDIP’s modern success. And Ganjar will likely need both if he is to be the next president of Indonesia. 


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