For Prabowo, Victory Remains Elusive, for Now

A meeting between Prabowo Subianto (right) and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s scion, Gibran Rakabuming Raka. Credit: Dokumentasi Tim Media Prabowo Subianto


In the dynamic landscape of Indonesia’s presidential election, Prabowo Subianto has emerged as a prominent candidate, leading a coalition with a substantial 261 parliamentary seats. His strong candidacy is fortified by his strategic rebranding as “Jokowi’s man” and capitalizing on the power struggle between President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Megawati – two most powerful politicians in Indonesia at the moment.

Prabowo’s shrewd tactics and adept positioning have catapulted him to the forefront of Indonesian politics, shifting him from a previous subject of ridicule to a highly respected presidential contender. What adds to his appeal, especially among the younger generation of voters, is Prabowo’s newfound calm, composed demeanour, as if an eccentric but not frightening uncle, a notable departure from his earlier reputation for being hot-tempered and confrontational. 

Furthermore, it has been a fortunate turn of events for Prabowo that his association with Islamic hardliners has been perceived as dissipated, as it now finds a stronger connection with Anies Baswedan, leaving him free from such associations and allowing him to get a broader base of voters.

The Coalition: Collaborative Advantages and Its Inertias

In Prabowo’s coalition, clear collaborative advantages are readily apparent. The unity among party elites, marked by solid gestures and entertaining political gimmicks, presents a promising and formidable front compared to another coalition led by PDIP.

Recent polls further underscore Prabowo’s ascendancy as the leading candidate, with a slight edge over Ganjar Pranowo, the presidential nominee of the PDIP-led coalition. He is also securely ahead of Anies Baswedan, whose numbers show a downward trend. Since the presidential election is believed to take place in two rounds, the two-name simulation also currently favors Prabowo where he will enjoy the votes of the losing side in the first round.

However, while there are certainly outward signs that suggest the advantages of collaboration, there is a need to delve deeper into the notion of collaborative inertia. While on the surface the collaboration among political parties in Prabowo’s coalition appears advantageous, it must remain acutely aware of the underlying challenges that persist. 

Indonesian politics has long been characterized by its fluidity, where the pursuit of common ground and shared interests can often be an elusive endeavor. This inherent volatility is reflected in the swift and unpredictable changes in coalition dynamics, reminiscent of the ever-shifting alliances observed within parties like PKB and Demokrat.

One of the most evident examples of this dynamic is the differing aspirations within the coalition regarding the vice-presidential seat. Golkar, for instance, is advocating for Airlangga Hartarto to be Prabowo’s running mate, while PAN is pushing for Erick Thohir.

Electorally, Erick Thohir, who is perceived as a naturalized Nahdlatul Ulama member, may have an edge, but Golkar, as the third-largest party, has a substantial reason to assert its position. It would be highly illogical for Golkar not to secure the ticket within the coalition, as Airlangga’s election would have significant implications for the continuity of his leadership within the party. If he fails to secure the position, it could potentially lead to a leadership transition within Golkar as well. Prabowo’s leadership will be tested to handle this puzzle.

Furthermore, it is crucial to recognize that the behavior of Indonesian voters for presidential candidates does not always neatly align with their party choices.

Past elections serve as stark reminders that the mere presence of a large coalition does not guarantee victory, a lesson Prabowo himself has learned from firsthand experience. The intricacies of voter decision-making go beyond party affiliations, and many factors come into play when citizens cast their ballots.

These factors include individual candidate appeal, policy platforms, regional dynamics, and even the charisma of the presidential hopefuls themselves. Up to this point, the candidates’ personas have taken a more highlight. At the same time, policy platforms have not been emphasized to a significant extent by Prabowo or other candidates like Ganjar and Anies.

In this context, Prabowo’s coalition must proceed with caution, acknowledging that while collaboration can offer strength, it does not automatically guarantee electoral success. The challenges posed by collaborative inertia and the unpredictability of Indonesian politics necessitate a multifaceted approach.

Prabowo and his team must not only focus on maintaining unity within the coalition but also on crafting a compelling and differentiated narrative that resonates with voters across the diverse political landscape of Indonesia. This approach will be essential in navigating the intricate web of Indonesian politics and securing victory in a fiercely competitive election.

Prabowo’s Royal Flush

Despite Prabowo’s impressive lead in the polls, he must remain vigilant until he assembles the crucial elements akin to a “royal flush” in poker, a term signifying the most potent and unbeatable hand. Just as a royal flush guarantees victory in card games, Prabowo’s path to success hinges on three pivotal factors: the influence of Jokowi, the selection of an astute vice-presidential candidate, and the meticulous development of well-defined policy platforms.

Firstly, a potential game-changer for Prabowo lies in the prospect of receiving support from Jokowi. Jokowi’s transformation into a highly respected and strong president with the world’s highest net approval rating eliminates any perception of him being a lame duck. This support has the potential to address several issues contributing to collaborative inertia within Prabowo’s coalition. It can help resolve disputes like the competition between Golkar and PAN for the vice-presidential slot, among others. In essence, it has the potential to resolve multiple challenges with a single stroke.

Additionally, in the ongoing rivalry between Megawati and Jokowi, their competition could act as a catalyst for increased support from Jokowi towards Prabowo. The more intense their rivalry becomes, the greater the potential for Jokowi to throw his support behind Prabowo. 

Prabowo understands this much. Recent events disclose that he once extended an offer to Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s eldest son, for the vice-presidential position on his ticket, a move that could provide Jokowi with a sense of continuity and comfort after his tenure ends. This aligns with efforts in the Constitutional Court to amend the minimum age requirement for vice presidential candidates. If Gibran nominee were to happen, it would signify that the conflict between Jokowi and Megawati has reached a level unprecedented in their history. Moreover, it is worth noting that the latest Constitutional Court decision has paved the way open even though Gibran has not yet reached the minimum age of 40.

Secondly, Prabowo faces the challenge of potentially being exploited by his competitors like Ganjar and Anies due to his relative lack of speech rhetoric prowess. While Prabowo is not inherently weak in this regard, both Ganjar and Anies have demonstrated exceptional skill in oratory. One potential solution lies in finding a running mate who not only possesses adept oratory abilities but also excels in policy formulation. This balanced ticket, backed by the best campaign team, could help offset Prabowo’s speech-related limitations. However, it appears that Gibran’s style may not be the ideal choice to fill this role effectively, despite the recent decision by the Constitutional Court.

Thirdly, an additional reason why the above-mentioned is important is that, with only 32% of voters sticking to their preferences, a substantial pool of nearly 70% remains open to changing their vote. This sizable segment of voters is awaiting a more distinct and appealing policy agenda. Consequently, Prabowo’s performance in debates and his ability to articulate a compelling vision through public statements are pivotal. Failure in these aspects could result in a significant setback in the election. It is imperative for him not only to possess a clear vision but also to effectively communicate it, capturing the attention and garnering the support of this substantial portion of the electorate.

In addition, it is imperative to acknowledge that this article was penned four months ahead of the election, and campaign strategies are subject to evolution over time. Unlike the PDIP, which has promptly revealed its campaign team, Prabowo’s campaign strategy remains shrouded in secrecy. It seems like he is focusing on how to win, rather than how to govern.

However, that pool of nearly 70% significant voters, made up of both critical and swing voters, are eagerly awaiting a candidate with innovative and substantive ideas for governance. The election should serve as a means of political education after all.


Prabowo must recognize that, despite any initial success, victory cannot be taken for granted. Critical voters seek more than just a good image; they are looking for a candidate who can articulate and implement policies that address the pressing issues facing Indonesia in the next five years.

To secure their support, Prabowo needs an exceptional campaign team that not only presents a compelling vision but also elaborates on the policy differences between him and his opponents, Ganjar and Anies.

These policy proposals should go beyond mere populist policies but offer innovative and solution-based options to address complex challenges ahead. This approach will resonate with critical voters, providing them with a clear understanding of the vision and plans for the future. If he manages it well, it will ultimately solidify Prabowo’s standing as a formidable candidate.

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