An Indonesian media tycoon who has partnered with U.S. President Donald Trump’s family said he’ll back President Joko Widodo for a second term in 2019.
Hary Tanoesoedibjo, 52, said in an interview on Tuesday that he decided not to run for the presidency. The founder of media and real estate conglomerate MNC Group chairs the Indonesian Unity Party, and has previously said he felt inspired by Trump to run for president in Indonesia.
“If you look at the situation today, Jokowi is the strongest candidate,” Tanoesoedibjo said in Singapore, referring to the president by his nickname. He left open the possibility of running as vice president, saying: “About myself, I just let it flow.”
With the presidential election in Southeast Asia’s largest economy due in April 2019, parties are already gearing up for what will be a lengthy campaign. It will be the first time that elections for the presidency, national parliament, state legislatures and local government offices will be held on the same day.
Widodo remains popular, presiding over an economy that regained an investment grade sovereign debt rating even as growth has been slower than expected. He has focused on improving infrastructure in the world’s largest archipelago.
An ethnic Chinese Christian, Tanoesoedibjo could prove a burden for Jokowi if he were to be his 2019 running mate. Earlier this year, Muslim leaders helped topple Jakarta’s former Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, in an election marred by religious tensions.
Ahok was Jokowi’s running mate when he was elected governor of Jakarta in 2012, and this year’s governor’s race was widely seen as a proxy for the next presidential election.
“There is very little prospect of Jokowi picking Hary Tanoesoedibjo as his running mate,” said Hugo Brennan, an Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft in Singapore. “The reality is that having a Chinese-Christian candidate on the ticket would likely prove a handicap under the current political climate.”
Still, Brennan said Tanoesoedibjo’s backing would “no doubt prove useful come 2019, given that the media mogul wields considerable influence through MNC Group,” Brennan said.
Among those considering a run against Jokowi are Prabowo Subianto, runner-up in the 2014 presidential election, and Indonesian National Armed Forces chief Gatot Nurmantyo.
Tanoesoedibjo has had a longstanding relationship with the Trump Organization. He currently has deals with the group to upgrade and operate a 700-hectare resort and golf course in Lido, West Java, and a 100-hectare complex in Bali.
Tanoesoedibjo was on the guest list for Trump’s inauguration, and has often touted his friendship with Trump’s children.
“He has the ability to translate his media influence into building support at the grass-roots level,” said Tobias Basuki, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. “He will definitely have some small bargaining chips."
Police questioned Tanoesoedibjo earlier this year over allegations he sent threatening text messages to a deputy attorney general. He has maintained his innocence. – Bloomberg