Jakarta. The country’s main opposition party has tagged Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo as its presidential candidate for the July 9 election, in a surprise announcement on Friday that brings an end to months of speculation over whether party chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri would seek another stab at the presidency.
The announcement by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was widely welcomed, with analysts saying Joko had cleared the biggest hurdle on the path to the presidency.
The PDI-P made the announcement at 2:42 p.m. on its official Twitter account, @PDI_Perjuangan, saying: “Megawati Soekarnoputri has officially mandated Jokowi as the 2014 presidential candidate.”
The governor spoke with reporters during an during an impromptu visit to Marunda, North Jakarta, saying he was prepared to run in the presidential race.
“I have been given the blessing of PDI-P chairwoman Megawati to be a presidential candidate. In God’s name, I am ready.”
Later in the day, Puan Maharani, a senior PDI-P official and Megawati’s daughter, confirmed that her mother had ordered all party members to support Joko’s bid, and had issued a similar call to all voters.
Tjahjo Kumolo, the PDI-P’s secretary general, said Megawati had made the decision to nominate Joko on Thursday evening, after concluding that he was the best choice for moving the country forward.
Analysts have said that getting the PDI-P’s nomination was the biggest challenge for Joko if he sought to run for president.
“Now that he’s got the nomination, I think he will win the presidency,” said Muhammad Qodari, executive director of pollster IndoBarometer.
IndoBarometer’s latest survey conducted earlier this month showed Joko as the frontrunner with more than 30 percent of votes, followed by Prabowo Subianto, the founder and chief patron of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), a distant second with less than 16 percent.
Business tycon and Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie was in third place with 11.8 percent.
“Making the announcement before the legislative elections will make the PDI-P’s electability the highest among all the parties,” said Wawan Ichwanudin, a political science lecturer at the University of Indonesia.
The outcome of the April 9 legislative election is critical for parties eyeing the July 9 presidential ballot.
In order to be eligible to nominate a candidate, a party must win of 25 percent of the vote in the legislative election or 20 percent of seats at the House of Representatives.
Parties falling short of this threshold will have to form coalitions with other parties to make up the numbers.
Polls show that the PDI-P would get a sizeable boost in votes in the April ballot if it announced Joko’s candidacy before the legislative election.
The popular reaction to the announcement has also been largely positive, with Jokowi, the governor’s popular nickname, becoming a worldwide trending topic on Twitter as millions expressed their support for him to become president.
Rival politicians were among those offering their congratulations.
Luhut Panjaitan, a Golkar stalwart, praised Megawati for nominating Joko, saying that the decision was “historic for Indonesia.”
“Mega has made an extraordinary and historic decision as the country needs a pro-people leader,” said Luhut, Golkar’s deputy chief patron.
“It’s a decision from an honest leader to make Indonesia better.”
From within the PDI-P, longtime Megawati confidant Sabam Sirait joked that Joko would have to take good care of himself, in a jibe at the governor’s skinny frame.
“We’ve asked him not to be too tiny. Indonesia need him to stay healthy,” Sabam said.
Following the announcement, speculation mounted about who the PDI-P would choose to be Joko’s running mate, with officials from other parties hinting that they might want to hitch their wagon to the PDI-P’s in order to get the number two slot on the presidential ticket.
Bima Arya Sugiarto, a senior politician with the National Mandate Party (PAN), said the PDI-P had made a “beautiful breakthrough.”
He said the presidential election would be a three-horse race between Joko, Prabowo and Aburizal.
“I urge the PAN to quickly decide what we will do because the political constellation has changed totally,” Bima said.
“The option is we can join the PDI-P or form a coalition with Gerindra and Prabowo,” he added.
PAN has declared its chairman, Hatta Rajasa, who is also the current chief economics minister, as its presidential candidate.
Jusuf Kalla, the former vice president and a Golkar stalwart, expressed his willingness to become Joko’s running mate if asked by the PDI-P.
“I won’t refuse. If it is for the nation, we should be ready,” he said.
However, Idrus Marham, Golkar’s secretary general, insisted that the party would not join the PDI-P in a coalition because it was putting all its support behind Aburizal’s presidential bid.
“The PDI-P has a presidential candidate, and we also have our own candidate. So how do we form a coalition?” he said.
He said Golkar had no trepidation about the impact of Friday’s announcement.
“We decided on our own candidate two years ago. We are prepared. The challenge is how we can convinced people to vote for us,” Idrus said.
But with Kalla — a far more popular figure than Aburial both within Golkar and with the political establishment and general public — throwing his weight behind Joko, analysts are predicting a loss of votes for Golkar in the legislative election, which in turn will affect its ability to nominate Aburizal for the presidential ballot.
“Golkar will lose part of its voters because many are still loyal to Kalla. It will also threaten Aburizal’s chance,” said Ubedillah Badrun, executive director of the Center for Social and Political Studies.
Kalla has also gained support from the National Awakening Party (PKB) to team up with Joko, with the party lobbying the PDI-P to form a coalition even before the legislative election.
Marwan Ja’far, the PKB deputy chairman, said his party and the PDI-P had “communicated intensively” for a Joko-Kalla ticket in July.
Maruarar Sirait, a veteran PDI-P official, said his party would need time to decide who would run with Joko.
“We want to be careful to pick the running mate because we don’t him or her to be a liability,” he said.
Gerindra, meanwhile, said Joko’s nomination would not affect Prabowo’s popularity.
“According to our own survey, Prabowo’s electability continues to increase across the country,” said Suhardi, the Gerindra chairman.
He expressed confidence that Prabowo could defeat Joko in the election.
However, Qodari from IndoBarometer said that with Joko now in contention, Prabowo’s chances had diminished.
“Surveys have consistently indicated that Prabowo will not win the presidency if Joko runs,” he said.
The Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which is holding a big-tent convention to choose its own candidate, also said it was ready to face off against Joko.
“We have prepared a strategy to face Joko’s nomination. Our candidates at the convention have been ready to challenge Joko, Prabowo or Aburizal,” said Andi Nurpati, a Democrat deputy secretary general.
Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, from Prabowo’s Gerindra, also voiced his support for Joko’s candidacy, saying that his boss could help make the country better.
“I will support whoever wants to fix the country and has a good track record,” he said.
Under the law, Basuki will automatically become the governor until his term ends if Joko is elected president.
Joko will be required to take leave of office to campaign.
Basuki said that in anticipation of Joko winning the election, he had proposed Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, a PDI-P legislator, as a suitable deputy governor once he become governor.
He said that he and Rieke had worked well before in the House.
Rieke said separately that she and Basuki were old friends.
“I was on his campaign team when he ran for governor of Bangka-Belitung,” she said, adding that she and Basuki then met again at the House and had worked together since.
“We we’ve discussed many issues. While we have different opinions on several issues, we share a common stance on many other issues,” she said.
Rieke last year ran in the West Java gubernatorial election but lost. The Jakarta Globe