By: Ainur Rohmah

Sandiaga Uno, the vice-presidential running mate of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia’s April 17, 2019 general election, has sold shares in his company valued at more than half a trillion rupiahs (US$34.2 million) to finance their struggling campaign, which is running 20 points behind that of President Joko Widodo.

In the meantime, Jokowi, as the president is known, is playing a populist card by directing more funds to the poor. 

Based on Indonesia Stock Exchange information, Sandiaga sold 17.05 million of his shares in PT Saratoga Investama Sedaya Tbk in several stages in December, pocketing Rp64.38 billion in money. The sales, in three stages, were carried out on Dec. 6, 7 and 11 for 7 million, 5 million and 5.05 million shares, respectively at Rp3,776 per share.

Sandiaga still has 613.77 million shares in Saratoga, equivalent to 22.63 percent, valued at Rp2.32 trillion. His gradual sales over the past two months are valued at up to Rp567.76 billion.

Before entering politics, Sandiaga was known as one of the richest businessmen in Indonesia with a majority stake in Saratoga, a company engaged in the infrastructure, consumer and natural resources sectors. In a 2018 list of the richest persons in the country compiled by Globe Asia, Sandiaga ranked 85th with estimated wealth of US$300 million, down by US$200 million from last year.

Sandiaga spent heavily to finance his nomination and that of Anies Baswedan to defeat the incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for the Jakarta governorship in 2017 in an election marred by racial and religious undercurrents. Ahok is a Chinese Christian. Sandiaga left his position as deputy governor a few months after being installed to take part in the upcoming election as former general Prabowo’s running mate.

In a campaign in Purwokerto, a Javanese city 355 km south of Jakarta on Dec.15, Sandiaga confirmed that he had sold his shares to finance the campaign. “It is necessary for the public to know that the funds for the campaign and others come from the sale of shares,” he said.

Sandiaga said raising large funds was no problem during the campaign period as the campaign’s electability has improved to 40 percent based on his team’s internal survey, a figure disputed by independent polls, which show that Jokowi and his running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, are favored by 53.2 percent of voters, with Prabowo-Sandiaga was 31.2 percent in November. Undecides are at 15.6 percent.

Sandiaga said funds are necessary for campaign props such as posters to be distributed to various regions, especially villages, where he is not widely known. Nearly 186 million voters are eligible to participate in the legislative and presidential elections across the vast archipelago.

“Whatever the cost needs, I will be all out,” he said. “Because right now, we (based on internal surveys) have penetrated 40 percent. The expectations of the community have been so great for us. We must not disappoint the community,” he said.

In mid-November, Sandiaga acknowledged that, with no large-scale donors, he and Prabowo were short of funds to run the campaign for the next five months. Prabowo himself ran what is believed to be the most expensive presidential campaign in Indonesian history in 2013, losing decisively to Jokowi by 53.15 percent to 46.85 percent, with a record 69.85 percent of voters going to the polls.

Since the campaign began on September 23, Sandiaga and Prabowo have spent at least Rp34.5 billion, the majority from Sandiaga’s personal funds.

Sandiaga’s acknowledgment arose in response to an analysis by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) which stated that Prabowo would find it difficult to dent Jokowi’s electability because of the loss of the 3 Ms; money, momentum, and media.

LSI founder Denny JA said the current situation demands that Prabowo and Sandiaga raise their spending given that they are running 20 percent behind the incumbent.. “Even though we know Prabowo seems to have logistical difficulties,” Denny was quoted as saying by detik.com at the time.

Jokowi’s position as incumbent is starting to deliver its benefits, given that he has access to state resources to increase his popularity and is supported by several media conglomerates such as Surya Paloh and Hary Tanoesoedibjo. There has so far been no big momentum to erode his electability.

“Moreover, there was awareness of the coalition party (Prabowo) to save his own party to escape to the parliament,” Denny said “So I see Prabowo having difficulty catching up to around 20 percent. “

SBY cools his heels

Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the leader of the Democratic Party, one of Prabowo’s party supporters, openly acknowledged that he is more concerned with preserving his party’s position in legislative campaigns than campaigning for Prabowo. In a November speech before his sympathizers, SBY said only parties whose cadres became presidential candidates benefited in the 2019 election.

The two parties that SBY referred to are Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Prabowo’s Gerindra Party, each using its resources to push its members, Jokowi and Prabowo, as presidential candidates.  

“This 2019 election is held simultaneously, the presidential election coincides with the legislative elections. The survey proves that political parties that have presidential candidates benefit greatly,” SBY said.

It wasn’t until the campaign had been underway for three months before SBY began to participate, actually asking the Gerindra Party not to force him to campaign. “I have been a Presidential Candidate twice. I have never blamed and forced the Chairman of my supporting parties to campaign for me,” SBY wrote on his Twitter account on November 15.

SBY was an enthusiastic supporter of Prabowo before the former general determined his potential companion at the end of July. At that time, SBY announced that his party would unconditionally support Prabowo as a presidential candidate. Rumors were strong that Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, SBY’s son, would be picked as a vice presidential candidate. When Prabowo finally chose Sandiaga to accompany him, SBY’s enthusiasm reportedly cooled.

Jokowi’s “Maneuver”?

With Sandiaga selling shares to raise money, Jokowi countered with populist policies, raising suspicions that he was maneuvering to smooth his steps to win the election. Indeed, Jokowi will double cash handouts to the poor from Rp19 trillion this year to Rp38 trillion (US$2.6 billion) in 2019.

The program, known as the Hope Family Program (PKH), is aimed at helping 10 million families in what is claimed as an effort to reduce poverty. The funds will be given in four phases with the first two in January and April, a month earlier compared to this year’s timeline.

Social Affairs Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita denied that the funding is related to the president’s political interests. “It has nothing to do with the political year,” Agus said, adding that the distribution of aid was advanced so that recipients could enjoy assistance more quickly.

In 2019, Jokowi will also implement other populist policies such as maintaining fuel prices and basic electricity tariffs, increasing civil servants’ salaries, and accelerating the completion of infrastructure development.

Although Jokowi’s position appears solid, he faces challenges related to friction between his coalition parties. Chairperson of the United Development Party (PPP) Romahurmuziy recently criticized the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) for issuing a statement that harmed Jokowi’s candidacy.

“I appealed to my colleagues at PSI not to be a burden in connection with its positioning strategy, (so that it appeared) the label that Jokowi was anti-Islamic,” Romahurmuziy said.

The PSI recently surprised the public when its general chairman, Grace Natalie, explicitly stated that her party rejects polygamy, provoking community debate and positioning in the opposite to the conservative Islamic PPP.

Jokowi has been the target of widespread rumors that he is anti-Islamic, given that conservative lecturers have been arrested during his reign. He is often rumored to be a member of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and said by his enemies to be an atheist, all of which he has been forced to deny and which is considered to be the reason he picked an Islamic cleric as his running mate.

Grace Natalie also issued a controversial statement that her party would not support regional regulations (Perda) based on religion, such as Sharia Laws and Gospel Regulations, but rather rules based on universal law.

That led critics to report her to the police on charges of having uttered hate speech. Reports were filed by the Indonesian Muslim Workers Brotherhood (PPMI) with attorney Eggi Sudjana, one of the figures who had close relations with conservative Islamic groups.

Romahurmuziy said that the party’s statements are feared to be adding to the anti-Islam issue against Jokowi. But the PSI denies the criticism, saying that the ban on polygamy is only PSI’s policy –not the Jokowi-Ma’ruf coalitions, and applied only for their cadres.

“PSI has the right to make binding rules for PSI management and cadres that other political parties cannot comment on,” said PSI spokesman Guntur Romli.

Guntur believes the PSI’s policy will not affect Jokowi’s electability, while anti-Islamic allegations are no longer relevant because Jokowi’s vice presidential candidate is a cleric.