The Newsletter 84 Autumn 2019

The 2019 Indonesian elections. Between the opinion polls and the polling booth

Hui Yew-Foong

On 17 April 2019, 158 million Indonesian voters went to the polls to elect their president and vice president, as well as four different levels of legislative representatives. This proved to be one of the most challenging elections in Indonesian history, as it was the first time that Indonesia held the presidential and legislative elections simultaneously. As expected, the presidential election overshadowed the legislative elections.

The 2019 presidential election was seen as a replay of the 2014 presidential election because the same presidential candidates, namely, Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) and Prabowo Subianto (hereafter Prabowo), were facing off against each other again. What was different were the vice-presidential candidates. Under pressure from his coalition, Jokowi had selected the 76-year-old conservative Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin (hereafter Ma’ruf), who was chairman of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) and former supreme leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia. This was seen as a tactical move by Jokowi to combat the image that he was anti-ulama (Islamic scholar) and not religious enough. On the other hand, Prabowo picked Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno (hereafter Sandiaga), former deputy governor of Jakarta. As one of Indonesia’s most successful young entrepreneurs, the then 49-year-old Sandiaga was seen as having strong appeal to the 42 million millennial voters and someone who could speak authoritatively on the economy.

Another difference between the 2014 and 2019 elections was the fact that Jokowi ran in 2019 as the incumbent and part of the political establishment, with a coalition of 10 political parties behind him while Prabowo had only five parties supporting him. Whereas in 2014 he was a commoner and an outlier challenging the Jakarta elite as a populist reformer, Jokowi had to justify his re-election in 2019 with his track record.

After the nominations for presidential candidates were formally announced on 10 August 2018, no less than 39 surveys conducted by 20 different institutions were conducted to find out how the electorate would vote. Most of the more reliable surveys found Jokowi-Ma’ruf’s support rate to be between 50 and 60 per cent, while Prabowo-Sandiga's support rate tended to range from 30 to 40 per cent, thus giving Jokowi-Ma’ruf a lead of about 20 per cent.1 Opinion polls and survey findings used in this article are summarized from Yew-Foong Hui, Made Supriatma, Aninda Dewayanti and Benjamin Hu, ‘Preview of the 2019 Indonesian Elections’, ISEAS Perspective 2019/24 (9 April 2019);; accessed 26 August 2019. Opinion polls conducted about a month before the election by most reputable pollsters, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Charta Politika, Indo Barometer and Lingkaran Survei Indonesia (LSI) Denny JA, all pointed to a comfortable win of 18-20 per cent for the Jokowi-Ma’ruf pair.

The surveys also suggested a ‘coattail effect’ on the electability of political parties. The parties of the presidential candidates, the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) and the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), were expected to benefit from the popularity of the presidential candidates and lead the pack. The Golkar Party, National Awakening Party (PKB), Democratic Party (PD), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), National Democratic Party (Nasdem), United Development Party (PPP) and National Mandate Party (PAN) were expected to have a good chance of crossing the electoral threshold of 4 per cent of the votes and getting into parliament. On the other hand, the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) and the new political parties – Indonesian Unity Party (Perindo) and Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) – seemed unlikely to meet the threshold and therefore may not be represented in the new parliament.

The surveys also reported the demographic characteristics of the supporters of both pairs of presidential candidates. The Jokowi-Ma’ruf pair was more likely to attract rural voters and those with low and medium education, and has overwhelming support from Catholics and Protestants. In addition, younger voters and those with higher income tended to support the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair.

There were also clear geographical patterns related to support for Jokowi and Prabowo respectively. Results of the 2014 election indicated that Jokowi had stronger support in Central and East Java, and much of the rest of Indonesia. Prabowo’s strongest support came from the provinces of West Java and Banten, as well as various parts of Sumatra. Surveys suggested that this general picture would remain largely the same for 2019, although there were some differences on the outcome for West Java, Banten and Jakarta.

On 21 May 2019, the General Elections Commission declared Jokowi the winner of the presidential election with 55.5 per cent of the votes against Prabowo’s 44.5 per cent. The 11 per cent lead was smaller than what the surveys suggested, but it was significantly larger than the 6.3 per cent lead he had in 2014.

As for the political parties, the ‘coattail effect’ was not as pronounced as predicted, although PDI-P and Gerindra did lead the pack with 19.33 per cent and 12.57 per cent of the votes respectively. Also as predicted, Hanura and the new political parties did not cross the electoral threshold and would not be represented in parliament, suggesting that the smaller and new parties will face an uphill task in trying to get a foothold in national politics.

While there is no conclusive evidence on the demographic characteristics of supporters for both pairs of candidates, the geographical voting patterns are more apparent. In fact, not only are the geographical voting patterns of 2014 generally upheld, they have also deepened in 2019. While Jokowi won a greater percentage of the votes in 2019, the provinces where he has the majority of votes decreased from 23 (out of 33) to 21 (out of 34). Correspondingly, Jokowi’s majority has increased substantially in provinces such as Central Java, East Java and Bali, whereas Prabowo’s majority in Aceh and West Sumatra has jumped significantly as well. The general pattern is that Jokowi’s support has deepened in Javanese and non-Muslim majority areas, while Prabowo’s support has deepened in non-Javanese Muslim majority areas.2 See Tom Pepinsky, ‘Religion, ethnicity, and Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election’, New Mandala, 28 May 2019;; accessed 26 August 2019.  It remains to be seen if these broad religious and ethnic fault lines will continue to be a mainstay of Indonesian national politics, and whether future presidential candidates will exploit them.

Hui Yew-Foong is Senior Fellow and Co-ordinator of the Indonesia Studies Programme