Banyumas-Banyuwangi corridor: The battleground in the presidential race

Posing for photos, presidential candidates (top, left to right) Anies Baswedan, Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo and (bottom, left to right) vice presidential candidates Muhaimin Iskandar, Gibran Rakabuming Raka and Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin register themselves at the General Elections Commission (KPU) headquarters in Jakarta on Oct. 19, 2023. (Reuters/Willy Kurniawan)


As predicted, the presidential race to replace Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will feature the three candidates commonly touted in various opinion surveys.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the United Development Party (PPP) put forward Ganjar Pranowo and Mahfud MD to face Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who have the pledges of the Gerindra Party, the Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Democratic Party, and Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar, who were nominated by the NasDem Party, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Prabowo, who ran twice against Jokowi but later joined the cabinet as defense minister, has been campaigning as the “continuity candidate”, aiming to build upon the accomplishments of Jokowi’s two terms in office.

Entering the final year of his presidency, Jokowi enjoys an unprecedented level of acceptance, according to recent surveys. This indicates that people favor a leader possessing the qualities and demeanor of Jokowi, along with the leadership and managerial approach of his governing strategy (The Jakarta Post, May 12, 2022).

Candidates for the Valentine’s Day race will therefore be pressed to emulate how Jokowi constructed his winning coalition of voters in both the 2014 and 2019 elections. With such understanding, it would be best to refer to the political algorithm (the Post, Feb. 18, 2022) of character, content and constituency to arrive at the most effective strategy for the election.

On the character and content elements the aspirants could vie to mimic Jokowi’s and at the same time introduce their own vision and values to differentiate from the others. On the construct of constituency, though, they would need to be more strategic in both understanding and approaching communities to win their votes.

In 2014 and more so in 2019, Jokowi’s critical constituency support lies in the Javanese heartland in the provinces of Central Java, East Java and Yogyakarta. Those were where he garnered a massive vote margin that secured his lead. It seems for the Javanese, despite their inherent differences in cultural, social and economic interests, most of the 85 million people in the three provinces coalesced around a character they felt most at home with.

From those contests, Prabowo relied on voters in the Western provinces of Java – Banten and West Java – for his side of the tally. While overwhelming, it was still far from balancing his shortcomings among the Javanese heartlands.

For the upcoming race, the crucial approach for constituencies is how any of the three tickets could reorganize and reconstitute Jokowi’s 2019 voters, especially among the Javanese, to finish first.

The critical framework in such an attempt is to understand and operate in the key corridor between Banyumas in the western part of Central Java and Banyuwangi in the eastern tip of East Java. The regencies that form this corridor are the life-space to most of the Javanese, who at the core are similar, but crucial nuances in cultural, social and economic aspects could determine how they would cast their vote.

Banyumas refers not only to an administrative regency but a sub-culture of the Javanese that occupies the western end of the heartland and connects communities from the northern and southern coastal regions. While primarily centered around agricultural livelihood, this region has vibrant merchants and an emerging professional class in and around Purwokerto, a city at the center of this region.

Going eastward, there is an axis of Semarang and Magelang, which extends to Yogyakarta and its regencies. Semarang is the main hub at the center, connecting Jakarta and Surabaya at both ends of the Java socio-economic nexus. Magelang has emerged as an important social hub as it hosts the Military Academy, where Prabowo is a 1974 graduate. Yogyakarta is culturally significant with its Javanese aristocratic and nationalistic heritage, but nationally significant through its leading university, Gadjah Mada University (UGM), where leaders emerged, including Jokowi, as well as Ganjar and Anies.

Further, there is the Greater Surakarta region, the “Jokowi country”. As the political birthplace of Jokowi, who built his political and governing acumen as the mayor in the mid-to-late 2000s, the city is a center of Javanese aristocracy with lively art scenes, a long-standing vibrant marketplace and a strong agricultural economy.

In these three regions, Ganjar could have the home-court advantage as he was governor of the province and has strong ties with people in Yogyakarta. To be ahead in the race, though, he needs to at least attain the level of voters that Jokowi gained in 2019, while trying to hold the others at bay.

With Gibran, the current Surakarta mayor, on his side, Prabowo could seek to convince the voters in these regions that he is the worthy successor of Jokowi. He would certainly deploy his running mate and would want to peel off support from Ganjar by several million votes.

Meanwhile, Anies could tell the stories of his time at UGM as well as of his illustrious grandparents living in Yogyakarta years before Independence, to remind voters of his nationalist credentials.

Crossing the provincial boundary lies the Mataraman milieu – centering around the Madiun, Kediri and Blitar regions in East Java – that embody eclectic sociocultural features of subdued Javanese traditions with more vibrant expressions of the coastal communities.

At the center of East Java is the Surabaya-Malang axis, which also extends along the northern coastline that connects Semarang and ultimately Jakarta. This is the main social, economic and political thread of the country’s second-largest province with more than 40 million people whose influence reverberates far beyond its geographical lines, mainly to the eastern part of Indonesia.

East Java is also home to the Madurese community which extends their living space beyond the island to a population center known as Tapal Kuda (horseshoe) regencies that coalesce in the Pasuruan-Probolinggo line. Stretching to the easternmost, one will find Jember-Bondowoso-Situbondo regencies and Banyuwangi at the end of the corridor.

While these areas have diverse and complex communities, their sociocultural identities, which extend into political leaning, fall about in equal numbers to either the nationalists (the PDI-P) or Nahdliyin (Nahdlatul Ulama community). Other more centrist or corporatist proponents occupy a much smaller slice of the electorate. While Ganjar has a natural lead in the province, the election will be a test of prominence for Mahfud and Muhaimin – both of whom contest for the Nahdliyin votes. Mahfud calls from his roots in the Madurese tradition and his loyalty to the late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, who still has massive affinity among the Nahdliyin. Prabowo could hope to take some votes from hardened Jokowi voters among or beyond those two huge communities.

As such, from tracing voters along this Banyumas-Banyuwangi corridor we can expect some fierce campaigning where Ganjar-Mahfud ticket will have to make their voice resonate stronger among their traditional constituencies against Prabowo-Gibran’s amplification of ‘a third Jokowi term’ message in Central Java districts, and Anies-Muhaimin’s entreaties into the Nahdliyin households.

Outcomes by the voting day in this corridor could well determine our next president and vice president.

Adi Abidin
Public Policy & Stakeholder Management Specialist, Kiroyan Partners

This article was published in with the title “Banyumas-Banyuwangi corridor: The battleground in the presidential race”. Click to read: here.

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