President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s already buoyant reelection bid has received a further boost in the past few weeks with major mass organizations declaring their support for his presidential ticket.
Volunteers from Pancasila Youth (PP) branches in Jakarta, Karanganyar and Surakarta, Central Java, including PP chairman Japto Soerjosoemarno, publicly announced their support for Jokowi on March 3.
On Sunday, meanwhile, the Jakarta-based Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) also proclaimed their backing of the former Jakarta governor.
The move was an about-face for the FBR, which had previously backed Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto in the 2014 presidential election, as well as Anies Baswedan and now-vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election.
FBR chairman Lutfi Hakim said that Jokowi’s closeness with the Betawi people since his time as Jakarta governor was the main reason for the switch in allegiance.
“As one of the most basic examples, when he was governor, PakJokowi made traditional Betawi clothing the uniform of the provincial administration,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. “He is also the only Indonesian president to ever attend Lebaran Betawi [a traditional post-Idul Fitri festival in Jakarta].”
Lutfi also mentioned the organization’s disappointment with Anies’ administration as a factor.
“We feel that Anies has been half-hearted in preserving Betawi culture,” he said, citing the governor’s failure to produce gubernatorial regulations to implement the Betawi culture preservation regional regulation that had been passed in 2015.
He added that the FBR hoped Jokowi would continue to listen to the aspirations of the Betawi people if he was reelected president.
“If a Betawi person gets a cabinet position, that would be a bonus,” he said.
PP Jakarta secretary Embay Supriyantoro, who is also an executive in the PP Jakarta volunteer group, said that while the PP’s national central executive board officially remained neutral in the election, volunteer groups in various regions have decided to support Jokowi because of his “closeness” to the PP and his achievements in developing infrastructure.
“Although our chairman Pak Japto is very close to Prabowo personally, Jokowi has been closer to the PP as an organization and has attended our birthday celebrations and invited us to the presidential palace,” he told the Post.
Both Lutfi and Embay said that their organizations would use their respective networks to help mobilize more votes for Jokowi and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin in the campaign period’s final stretch.
“We will help fight against hoaxes and fake news because we are in direct contact with the people,” Lutfi said. “We will talk to people in guard posts and coffee stalls and make sure that the people are not easily manipulated.”
For his part, Jokowi has lavished praise on both organizations, saying that the PP was a stalwart guardian of the state ideology of Pancasila and calling Jakarta a miniature of Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the Prabowo-Sandiaga campaign sought to play down the importance of the two groups joining Jokowi’s camp.
Prabowo campaign spokesperson and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) executive Suhud Aliyudin shrugged off the FBR’s disappointment with the Anies-Sandiaga administration, saying that whatever the reason for supporting Jokowi, it was just “a normal thing in a presidential election”.
“The FBR is just one of many ethnic Betawi mass organizations in Jakarta,” he told the Post. “The PP is also just one of many mass organizations. We remain focused on the strategy that we designed by campaigning directly to the people like Pak Sandiaga has done all across Indonesia.”
Prabowo himself has also received the support of several mass organizations, mainly religion-based ones such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the 212 Alumni Brotherhood.
Mass organizations have had significant political sway in Indonesia during and after former president Soeharto’s New Order regime.
In his 2015 book The Politics of Protection Rackets in Post New-Order Indonesia, Murdoch University’s Ian Wilson wrote that while organizations such as the PP had become less openly violent, “the role of ormas and militias in electoral politics have far from diminished”.
“For political parties and aspirants for seats in national and regional legislatures, the value of alliances with these organizations and networks lies in several key areas: their ability to mobilize the masses at critical junctures such as during campaign periods, the access provided to the ‘grass-roots’ public and the ability to shape populist discourse as representatives, claimed or actual, of particular constituencies,” he wrote.
Indonesian Institute of Sciences political analyst Siti Zuhro said that the main strength of the mass organizations lay in their large followings spread across the country.
“Organizations such as the PP and FPI have regional infrastructure up to the district and subdistrict level that can have significant influence on the local populace,” she said.