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Inside the VP Hunt Drama: How Jokowi Dropped Mahfud and Picked Ma’ruf

Jokowi knew that his Islamic credentials would always be an issue. He needed a political partner who would be able to make up for this weakness. The “Nationalist-Religious” ticket is the choice.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has always been the first choice of Jokowi. After initial difficulties, they both have formed a solid working partnership. Kalla whose, Islamic credentials are without doubt, is well-liked and acceptable to coalition parties supporting Jokowi’s re-election bid. However the term-limit imposed by the constitution and the recent ruling by the Constitutional Court ended the idea of Kalla running for an unprecedented third term.

Moeldoko, Jokowi’s loyal Chief of Staff, had been a long time frontrunner. However, as the “communism attack” faded, so did his chance to be running mate. Knowing also that there was a very slim chance that his former armed forces Commander Gatot Nurmantyo would secure the presidential or vice presidential nomination, the 57-year-old President opted against Moeldoko.

Jokowi had decided last week that his running mate would be Mahfud MD, a jurist and Islamic scholar with platinum credentials.

Mahfud combines religious credentials with a long political resume. He comes from a traditional Muslim background, but has a modern image. He has been regularly engaging Indonesian netizens through Twitter. His ties to Indonesia’s main Muslim organization, the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), have always been seen as a critical factor. The 61-year-old judge is also well-respected as a strong defender of Pancasila, Indonesia’s revered National Ideology.

Mahfud has also served in all three branches of the government. He was previously a Member of the House of Representatives (DPR), Minister of Defense, Minister of Law, and Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court. Another major consideration was his reputation as the protégé of Abdurrahman Wahid aka Gus Dur, the 4th President of Indonesia, and former Chairman of the NU.

The issue was that Jokowi’s coalition could not reach a consensus regarding Mahfud.

It is no secret that Mahfud was viewed as a potential threat to party leaders who covet the presidency for themselves in 2024. Although the vice presidency lacks clear power, Mahfud would be one step closer to the presidency and could be a strong presidential contender in 2024. This was a scenario that was not really welcomed by party leaders.

Jokowi could not afford to have disharmony within his huge nine-party coalition. A political-savvy Jokowi prepared an alternative plan. Mahfud wasn’t the only name in hand. Ma’ruf Amin, Senior Cleric, Chairman of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Nasaruddin Umar, Grand Imam of Istiqlal Mosque were Jokowi’s other choices.

The incumbent President, still optimistic that the resistance coalition partners would be able to accept Mahfud, asked the Madura native to prepare required documents through his trusted lieutenants State Secretary Pratikno and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung. On Thursday morning, Pratikno called Mahfud by phone to officially offer him the position and Mahfud accepted. For him, this was “Panggilan Sejarah”.

Mahfud was confident that he would finally be accepted. He went on air to confirm his vice presidential candidacy without really knowing that resistance against his candidacy was strong.

Ma’ruf In, Mahfud Out

An hour before the expected announcement of Mahfud at 4pm, Jokowi accepted the reality that resistance and division could tear his coalition apart.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) and United Development Party (PPP), two moderate Islamic parties, were against Mahfud. NU implicitly voiced their objection to Mahfud. Chairman of NU, Said Aqil Siradj, even went to comment that Mahfud was never really a member of NU. Golkar was reportedly divided on Mahfud.

Jokowi knew there was a very serious risk that PKB might leave the coalition by joining forces with former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party to form the third axis. At this time, Yudhoyono was having tensions on his coalition plan with Gerindra’s Prabowo Subianto.

Jokowi could not afford to lose critical PKB and NU’s supports. The threat of a third candidate challenged him and his would-be opponent Prabowo could fatally lead to a runoff election, and a possible defeat, reminding him of what happened to his close political ally — Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama at the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election.

Facing this difficult choice, Jokowi eventually dropped Mahfud in favor of Ma’ruf Amin, who was immediately accepted by all political parties as a safe compromise choice.

Ma’ruf Amin is no stranger to politics. A well-respected senior cleric, Ma’ruf is a veteran politician who has been in the political scene since the early New Order era. As a former cadre of both the PPP and PKB, he has been repeatedly elected as a Member of the House of Representatives. Nor is he a mere backbencher in the House. The 75-year-old cleric was Chairman of House Trade and Industry Committee. He was also former member of Presidential Advisory Council during Yudhoyono’s presidency.

Ma’ruf’s appointment was not a complete surprise. He was always in the final VP shortlist as a potential alternate candidate.

The Supreme Leader (Rais ‘Aam) of NU was not without supporters. PPP leader Muhammad “Romy” Romahurmuziy was pushing Ma’ruf. It can be said that Romy, a close confidant of Jokowi, used every bit of his influence in Ma’ruf’s favour during this veepstakes process.

Romy had in fact publicly expressed his support for the powerful and influential cleric. On 10 July, Romy said Ma’ruf was one of 10 names who were being considered. Romy emphasized that Ma’ruf was the alternate candidate who would be accepted by all different parties and interest groups. Romy even went into detail by explaining Ma’ruf’s political, religious, and economic credentials.

The PPP leader wasn’t the only trusted hand making a push. PKB leader Muhaimin “Cak Imin” Iskandar was pushing Ma’ruf too. Cak Imin initially campaigned heavily for the vice presidency position. However, he later switched gear to campaign for the cleric, after realizing that Jokowi had decided not to choose him.

Ma’ruf was never scheduled for the meeting with Jokowi on Thursday. The cleric had been busy spending the day in the MUI office collecting donations for the Lombok Earthquake.

At 4.30 pm, Romy called to inform Ma’ruf to prepare for being named as Jokowi’s running mate. At 5 pm, the ruling party PDIP Leader Megawati Soekarnoputri gave a call to Ma’ruf to inform him that he had been chosen. Shortly after, Pratikno called to offer him the job officially. Ma’ruf was initially surprised before accepting the offer.

“I never dreamed or hoped to be Vice President”, Ma’ruf said. The great-grandson of renowned Syaikh Nawawi Al-Bantani admitted that there were some who asked him to turn down the offer. However, this was a “Call from God” for him. He was ready to run and serve the country as Vice President if needed.

At 5.40 pm, Abdul Kadir Karding, Secretary General of PKB officially tweeted that Jokowi had picked Ma’ruf, to the shock of the country who had been expecting Mahfud. At 6.26 pm, Jokowi officially announced Ma’ruf Amin as his vice presidential running mate.

Mahfud, knowing that his prize had slipped away from his hand, did not hide his shock but accepted Jokowi’s decision. Pratikno called him to inform that he had been dropped.

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”, Mahfud, runner-up to Kalla in the 2014 veepstakes, ended up being a losing finalist again. The premature political partner later met Jokowi at the Presidential Palace. Jokowi reportedly apologized to Mahfud who replied, “It’s okay Mr President, please do not feel guilty about this thing, I am fine”.

Disclaimer: This article is also available at Global Indonesian Voices (GIV):