Indonesia Presidential Elections 2014: Strange Bedfellows of Jusuf Kalla and Jokowi?

BY James Giggacher ON 23 May 2014

Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia, Stig Traavik, greeting Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo

Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia, Stig Traavik, greeting Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo in 2012

After months of wrangling and jostling, presidential hopeful Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has named his vice-presidential running mate, Jusuf Kalla for Indonesia presidential elections 2014.

The ex-Vice President and former Golkar party chairman was presented as Jokowi’s vice-presidential candidate in a largely uninspiring ceremony on Monday.

There are a few clear motivating factors for Jokowi deciding to run with Mr Kalla, not least the strong boost in the polls he provides.

According to Indonesia’s Indikator April poll, a Jokowi-Kalla pairing would win 51 per cent of the presidential vote.

The same poll said that Jokowi’s main rival, Subianto Prabowo, and his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, could only expect 32.4 per cent of the vote.

But that’s not the only benefit Jusuf Kalla gives Jokowi as a partner for the polls.

Mr Kalla may be about as exciting as day-old nasi goreng when it comes to Indonesian politics. But being a staple is not always a bad thing; his vast experience and even larger networks in government would stand a relative newcomer like Jokowi in good stead.

Like a grandfather tucked away in a homely family gathering, Mr Kalla’s terribly familiar, well-liked and respected – with a reputation for reliability and getting things done.

In addition, Jokowi is considered by some as being too green and inexperienced for the nation’s top job, particularly in regards to foreign affairs. Kalla and his long experience in politics would help redress that perception in the eyes of voters.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono & Jusuf Kalla


Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono & Jusuf Kalla

Jusuf Kalla is also a high-profile figure, but not always for the right reasons. He was named by Wikileaks for allegedly paying out bribes while Golkar party chairman. A charge which Mr Kalla said in his defence was a payment for the airfares and hotel stays of all the Golkar delegates which is customarily paid for by whomever is elected as Golkar chairman at the convention.

Most infamously, he’s appeared in controversial, Oscar nominated documentary The Act of Killing – a film exploring why death squad leaders who killed between 1965 and 1966 were celebrated as heroes.

A scene from the film shows Kalla praising the actions of the self-confessed killers, referred to as ‘gangsters’.

He says that while gangsters were “free men” who worked outside the system, sometimes [Indonesia] “needs these ‘free men’”.

“If everyone worked for government we’d be a nation of bureaucrats,” Mr Kalla says. “We’d get nothing done.

“We need gangsters to get things done.”

Film credentials are also matched by financial muscle.

Mr Kalla is cashed up (some say a tycoon) and his ability to press the flesh when it comes to politics, is supported by resources gained through his years in the private sector. A splash of cash from him would also be a welcome addition to Jokowi’s campaign kitty.

Questions may be asked, however, about whether a candidate with ka-ching and clout is the best look for an anti-corruption ticket.

Most significantly though, Kalla is old.

At 72 he has no chance of running as a presidential candidate in 2019. Even walking might be a struggle by then. And while ambitious, there is a small chance of Jokowi suffering from the stab in the back, Rudd-Gillard-Rudd secessions, we’ve seen in more ‘robust’ democracies recently.

But age is a blessing and a curse.

As old as Mr Kalla is, the point is that he still is ambitious – telling Indonesian media that he wants to continue his climb on Indonesia’s political ladder. He is not interested in a ministerial appointment and he has already been vice-president (2004-2009). From there, the only way is up.

Not letting talent get in the way of ambition, there’s also the possibility that he will not leave Jokowi to get on with the job.

The danger is he could be in Jokowi’s ear, hyperactive, an ambitious freelancer, a busy-body attention seeker. He will demand his time to shine in the limelight, and like a crooning, but sober Sinatra, it might be all about ‘doing it my way’.

Most worrying for the fresh-faced Jokowi is that Mr Kalla’s age and staying power in Indonesian politics places him firmly in the old guard of the New Order. For Jokowi, who is so popular because he is everything the old guard are not, the question is whether getting his hands dirty with Kalla will mean that, come the Indonesia presidential election 2014 in July, he risks having victory and the presidency slip through his fingers.

This article was by James Giggacher, Asia Pacific editor at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and an earlier version was originally published on ANU.


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