JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): A recent encounter between the leaders of the Gerindra Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has once again set off a social media buzz, with pundits suggesting that an alliance between the parties is in the cards as they seek to improve their chances of winning in the 2024 elections.
In a photo published last week on House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani's Twitter account, she, Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto and PDI-P matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri sit together in a waiting room at the Presidential Palace, smiling behind their face masks.
While the two party heads have met on several occasions in recent years, the presence of Megawati's daughter Puan, a presumptive presidential candidate who is widely considered an electoral underdog, was unique.
The meeting prompted speculation that Megawati was seeking to play kingmaker by bringing Puan and Prabowo together to test the waters. The photo was taken at the inauguration of the newly appointed Indonesian Military (TNI) commander, Gen. Andika Perkasa, on Nov 17. Prabowo attended in his capacity as defense minister, while Puan came as House speaker and Megawati as steering committee chairwoman for the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education (BPIP). PDI-P secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto later said Megawati and Prabowo had bumped into each other at the event and had had a "warm" exchange.
"Mbak Puan, the House speaker, joined a few moments later. And that’s when the warm discussion took place. Of course, it was related to the various dynamics of national politics,” Hasto said in a statement last Thursday.
The image placed the two top figures in a familiar scene, one that echoed their relationship before it soured during the 2014 presidential race. During the race, Megawati snubbed Prabowo as a presidential candidate, instead backing then-Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, a move the retired army general saw as a betrayal of the 2009 pact they had signed promising PDI-P support for his campaign.
But their relationship appeared to improve after Megawati facilitated a post-election reconciliation between Jokowi and Prabowo. The two parties, which were among the top three biggest winners of House seats in the election, have since maintained close ties, which observers take as a signal that they could form a new alliance for the next election.
Gerindra has long displayed an openness to the idea of entering into a coalition with the PDI-P.
"That possibility for 2024 is very much on the table. The PDI-P and Gerindra have a long history of friendship," said Gerindra deputy chairman Habiburokhman on Sunday, as quoted by kompas.com.
However, some analysts say the public political flirtation must still be backed by hard work, given the current doubts over whether Prabowo and Puan would make for a compelling 2024 ticket.
Arya Fernandes, a political researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), noted that Gerindra and the PDI-P were still very much competitors and that such an electoral alliance would benefit the former more than the latter.
"Prabowo's electability [polling] has not shown any signs of improvement," Arya told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
"Prabowo has seen eroding support among his voter base in several places, such as West Java and Sumatra, which have shifted toward [Jakarta Governor] Anies Baswedan. The prospect of victory for a Prabowo and Puan pairing is relatively small," he added.
For the past few years, Megawati has been grooming Puan to take over the leadership of the PDI-P, having endorsed her stint in government as coordinating minister for human development and culture and in the legislature as House speaker.
However, pundits note that Puan's lack of popular appeal has limited her opportunities for political advancement.
Arya said that Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java and a popular PDI-P politician who is being pushed aside in his own party, had shown greater potential to win than Puan. He believed it was possible Megawati would nominate him in her daughter's stead.
A survey by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) carried out from Sept. 15 to 21 found that while Prabowo continued to top the list of potential presidential candidates, his electability score had actually declined from 34.1 per cent in May to 30.8 percent in September.
Over the same period, both Ganjar and Anies saw increases in their electability scores, with 29.3 percent of polled voters favouring the former and 25 per cent the latter.
The survey involved 1,220 respondents and had a 3.19 per cent margin of error. Puan, on the other hand, was at the bottom of the list in September, with just 1.4 per cent support.
Besides the problem of electability, observers say the pairings need to bridge ideological divides. Ujang Komarudin, the executive director of the Indonesia Political Review, said that both Prabowo and Puan represented the nationalist front, a homogeneity increasingly considered a problem in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.
"Religious nationalism remains popular in today's ideological battles," Ujang told the Post on Tuesday.
"The Muslim vote would not be accommodated in a composition involving Prabowo and Puan."
While Gerindra has previously courted Indonesia's right wing, which includes parties with a more conservative religious bent and civil society groups known for stirring controversy, analysts have noted that it has grown more moderate after joining the ruling coalition.
Even so, Ujang said all options were on the table, as no candidate had pushed past 60 per ent in electability ratings.
"They'll continue to count straws until the end of the registration period," he said.
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