Strange bedfellows?

The announcement of the Jokowi and Kalla (right) ticket was as colourful as their shirts. Photo by AFP.
19 May 2014
The announcement of the Jokowi and Kalla (right) ticket was as colourful as their shirts. Photo by AFP.

James Giggacher charts the pros and cons of Indonesia’s next potential vice-president – including his stance on gangsters.  

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

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 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 Kalla gives Jokowi as a partner for the polls.

Kalla may be about as exciting as day-old nasi goreng when it comes to Indonesian politics. But being a staple isn’t 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, 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.  

Kalla is also a high-profile figure, but not always for the right reasons. He's been named by Wikileaks for paying out bribes while Golkar party chairman.

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 scence 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,” Kalla says. “We’d get nothing done.

“We need gangsters to get things done.”

Film credentials are also matched by financial muscle.

Kalla is cashed up (some say a tycoon) and his ability to press the flesh when it comes to politics, is supported by an all-important capacity for greasing people once in power. 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’s no chance of running as a presidential candidate in 2019. Even walking might be a struggle by then. And while ambitious, there’s 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 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’s not interested in a ministerial appointment and he’s 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 won’t 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’ll 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 Kalla’s age and staying power in Indonesian politics places him firmly in the old guard of the New Order. Which means he’s part of the elite, which means there are questions about whether he is ‘clean’.

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 July, he risks having victory and the presidency slip through his fingers.

James Giggacher is Asia Pacific editor at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and is working with the New Mandala Indo Votes team to cover the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

He also holds a Master of International Affairs from ANU.





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