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Indonesia presidential race: West Java governor, a likely frontrunner, supports Golkar.

Ridwan Kamil, who is also the top choice for vice presidential candidate according to pollsters, told CNA that he is fully behind current coordinating minister Airlangga Hartarto.

West Java governor, Ridwan Kamil during an interview with CNA. (Photo: CNA/Wisnu Agung Prasetyo)

JAKARTA: Despite his popularity in the polls, West Java governor Ridwan Kamil said he will support the potential candidacy of the country’s coordinating minister for economic affairs, Airlangga Hartarto in Indonesia’s presidential election next year.

In January, Mr Kamil made headlines by joining Indonesia’s oldest running political party, Golkar, which is chaired by Mr Hartarto.

“The party has decided that Airlangga shall run in the presidential election. It is fixed. Therefore, I, as a new member, support, pray for and look for ways to help him in any way I can,” Mr Kamil said in an exclusive interview with CNA on Monday (Feb 20).

During the party’s national leaders’ summit in March last year, Golkar officially named Mr Hartarto as the party’s nominee for the 2024 presidential election.

But Mr Hartarto has been trailing in the polls, being backed by less than 1.5 per cent of the voters surveyed.

Meanwhile, the same surveys have ranked Mr Kamil, 51, among the top four potential presidential candidates, garnering the support of between 7 and 9 per cent of respondents.

Mr Kamil told CNA that he is aware that his poll numbers “are not too bad” with some pollsters naming him as the most popular pick for vice president. The governor said he is also grateful that various organisations and communities across Indonesia have stated that they are ready to support his possible nomination.

“I cannot stop people from expressing their aspirations, their fondness and support. I thank them,” he said. However, “people’s aspirations and (the) party’s rationale must be in sync”, he also said.

“As of now, my calculation tells me to just follow the party’s decision. And I am fine with that, I have no problem with it and I have told this to Airlangga. I will honour the party’s decision,” he said.

West Java governor, Ridwan Kamil said he will respect the decision made by his political party, Golkar in nominating party chairman, Airlangga Hartarto for Indonesia’s presidential election next year. (Photo: CNA/Wisnu Agung Prasetyo)

A presidential candidate and his or her running mate must register with Indonesia’s National Elections Commission between Oct 19 and Nov 25 while voters will cast their ballots on Feb 14 next year.

As of now, most major coalitions are keeping their cards close to their chest in terms of alliances and who to back in the presidential race.


Mr Kamil, an internationally renowned architect with award-winning projects across the globe, first entered politics in 2013 when he ran for mayor in his native city of Bandung. 

Although he ran as an independent, his bid was supported by the Prosperous Justice Party and Gerindra Party.

He then went on to become the governor of Indonesia’s most populous province, West Java in 2018. Despite being backed by a coalition of four parties, Mr Kamil chose to remain independent. Ironically, Golkar was not among the parties that backed him in the past.

“I was an independent but supported by (political parties). But through my 10-year experience, I came to the conclusion: I could not do my work to the maximum. I should say that we only achieved 60 to 70 per cent of what we set out to do. The other 30 per cent was not supported by the political dynamics,” he said of his time as an independent politician.

“That’s why, I think by joining a party, I will have more political backing. Those who will be rewarded by this is not me personally but the people through better development.”

When asked why he joined a party that has never supported him in his time as mayor and governor, Mr Kamil said Mr Hartarto was very persuasive in getting him on board.

“My supporting parties have been hopeful (that I join them). They are all good, but Airlangga was more intense and more frequent in personally asking me (to join). He had answers to some of the questions I had,” he said.

“Therefore, Airlangga was key in making me feel comfortable and feel that I can make my contribution.”

Mr Hartarto has named Mr Kamil as Golkar’s new deputy chairman in charge of galvanising voters. This also means that he will oversee the campaign strategy.

Mr Kamil said he wholeheartedly accepted his new role even though it would put him in the background.

“I told (Mr Hartarto) that I am like a car. You can put me in a garage, display me in public or use me in a high-speed race,” he said.


Although Mr Kamil stated that he will back Mr Hartarto in the presidential contest, the popular governor hinted that he might not stay away from the political limelight.

In 2024, Indonesia will also hold simultaneous regional elections in 38 provinces and more than 500 regencies and cities.

Mr Kamil said he is currently mulling over whether to run for a second term as West Java governor or to vie for the Jakarta governorship.

“I have a nice problem. There are so many options. Should I run again for governor, numerous surveys showed good results. There are many ideas and I am sure my second term can be better with a party backing me in parliament,” Mr Kamil said. “There is an option (of running) for Jakarta (governor) because the survey results were also good.”

West Java governor, Ridwan Kamil said he is currently mulling over whether to run for a second term as West Java governor or to vie for the Jakarta governorship. (Photo: CNA/Wisnu Agung Prasetyo)

Mr Kamil said that staying as West Java governor would be his “comfort zone” but added that he does have ideas of what he wants to do if he becomes the governor of Jakarta.

“As of 2024, (Indonesia’s new) capital will be Nusantara. Therefore, there needs to be a repositioning of what Jakarta will become. This should be in the minds of those running for Jakarta (governor),” he said, referring to Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s plan to move the capital from the overcrowded city to a newly constructed city on the island of Borneo.

Being the governor of Jakarta is seen as a stepping stone to the presidency. Mr Widodo was once Jakarta’s governor while his successor Mr Anies Baswedan saw his popularity rise during his tenure as the city’s leader.

Observers said with Mr Baswedan appearing to be in the running for the country’s top job, Mr Kamil should have no trouble in becoming Jakarta’s governor.

“Whatever I will do next is not 100 per cent up to me. The party’s consensus will decide,” Mr Kamil said. “Should I stay (as) West Java (governor, or run as governor of) Jakarta, calculations will be made. The point is I have many options.”


Despite Mr Kamil declaring his backing for Mr Hartarto, analysts interviewed by CNA said Golkar could still change its mind about who to nominate, especially as the election draws near.

Mr Burhanuddin Muhtadi, the executive director of Jakarta-based think-tank Indikator Politik said there is a big possibility that Golkar could rescind its decision to nominate Mr Hartarto.

“The chances for Airlangga to actually be nominated is slim because his electability is low. Not only among the general public but even among Golkar constituents and cadres themselves,” he told CNA.

“Golkar, as a party, will stay away from making the wrong decisions. They have never been in the opposition and always side with the winners. So naturally, it will support whoever has the better chance of winning the election.”

Indonesia’s law states that a presidential candidate must secure the support of at least 25 per cent of the national parliamentary seats.

With just 85 seats, or less than 15 per cent of the 575 seats in parliament, Golkar had no choice but to form a coalition with two smaller parties: the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP). The three parties, which call themselves the United Indonesia Coalition, barely made it past the threshold with 25.75 per cent. 

Coalitions also have the option of nominating both presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Yunarto Wijaya, executive director of another think-tank Charta Politika said none of the parties in the coalition have a strong candidate.

“Ridwan Kamil’s electability is far ahead of not just Airlangga but also chairman of all the parties in the coalition,” he told CNA.

But with less than 9 per cent of the votes in polls so far, Mr Kamil’s popularity appears to be lagging behind the top three possible presidential candidates.

The most popular candidate, Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, for example, consistently garners more than 20 per cent of the votes in nearly all the surveys. Meanwhile, his two main rivals: defence minister Prabowo Subianto and former Jakarta governor Mr Baswedan both received more than 15 per cent of the votes.

“Therefore, the only realistic move for Ridwan Kamil is to become a vice presidential candidate. But the question is, who is he going to partner with?” Mr Muhtadi said. This could mean the Golkar-led coalition would have to look beyond the three parties and even consider joining forces with other coalitions, he continued.

Mr Wijaya believes that joining Golkar is a long-term investment for Mr Kamil.

“He is still relatively young. He will be realistic and see that his real chances may lie in 2029,” the Charta Politika director said, referring to the next time the presidential election will be held.

“He might still have a shot in 2024. But he will not force himself. He will be more cautious in making political maneuvers, especially considering that he is a newcomer in his own party.”

Source: CNA