Indonesia’s Presidential Election and the Battle Between Campaign Strategists

Joko Widodo greets supporters on Wednesday after an early vote count put him in the lead in Indonesia. Zuma Press
Joko Widodo greets supporters on Wednesday after an early vote count put him in the lead in Indonesia. Image Zuma Press

“I would not be willing to promote a win by making the culture of discrimination in Indonesia worse. That would be a poison that would continue to undermine the public even though the election is over. A mature political consultant should also concerned with the growth of democracy and the rights of the nation” – Denny JA


A Presidential election is not only a battle between two presidential candidates and two political machines, it is also a battle between strategists. This was also true in the case of the Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential campaign, where we saw the playing out of  a battle between campaign strategies prepared by an American PR consultant in camp Prabowo, and those of an Indonesian expert in public opinion and voting behavior in camp Jokowi.

Rob Allyn joined the Prabowo campaign team this year and is a political consultant who studied under Henry Kissinger at Georgetown, helped George W. Bush become governor of Texas in 1994 and consults for large corporations like Coca Cola. Denny JA at camp Jokowi is an anti-discrimination campaigner and also known as the founder of the tradition of political consultancy to Indonesia.

It has been widely reported in Indonesian media that Prabowo hired the American political consultant who is a well-known expert in negative and smear campaigning, with Tempo.com confirming the fact with Prabowo’s Gerindra Party on July 5, 2014.

Negative Vs Positive Campaign Tactics

The Prabowo versus Jokowi battle became increasingly colourful in it’s last weeks, as it also involved a battle between two political consultant types: between “black” or smear campaign tactics, and “positive grassroots and targeted” campaigning.

The most decisive part of the battle between Prabowo and Jokowi really happened in the last 20 days. Based on an LSI survey (Indonesian Survey Foundation) done in early June 2014, the margin to victory in the Jokowi camp was at 6.3%. But at the end of June 2014 it plunged again to only 0.5%, below the margin of error. Under these conditions, losing and winning became dependent on penetrating the intelligence of the voters until the final days before the election.

The Black Campaign

The alleged “Black Campaign” involved the spreading of lies about Jokowi’s ethnic and religious identity and, according to Denny JA, saw a marked drop in Jokowi’s popularity throughout the period in which they were employed.

These stories described Jokowi as a non-indigenous Indonesian, from a religious minority (some described him as begin a “secret “Chinese Christian”), and later accused him of having a PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) background.

Stories about Jokowi were circulated to remote villages. Even small children in slum alleys  were heard shouting:” Jokowi hasn’t been circumcised yet.” And false news like this is enough to influence voters who come from conservative Muslim backgrounds, regional voters, and those from middle to lower socio-economic groups, according Denny JA and the LSI.

Based on the LSI survey between January – June 2014, support to Jokowi in the segment of voters was down from 50 percent to below 40%. Not surprisingly, there was a shift of support from Jokowi to Prabowo.

The black campaign against Jokowi was systematic, and could only be carried out by leaders who understand the behaviour of voters.

Denny JA Joins Team Jokowi

Denny JA spoke by phone with Jokowi on Saturday April 26 around 20:30, and it was at this time that Jokowi accepted his offer to join his team to prepare a strategy outside the official campaign team.

The next day, on Sunday, April 27, 2014, Denny JA met face with Jokowi in Luhut Pandjaitan. At that time they discussed how the Jokowi team would utilise the strength of civil society and volunteers, rather than relying on political parties and the media.

As support for Jokowi continued to decline, opinions had formed amongst Indonesia’s elite that Jokowi was going to lose the election. At this point, the team strategized a positive campaign against “black campaign” devised by Rob Allyn. This campaign was targeted at grassroots voters and the upper middle class.

The Strategy of Team jokowi

The strategy employed by Team Jokowi and Denny JA utilised networks in 11 provinces of Indonesia, more than 70% of the Indonesian population. Thousands of trained volunteers engaged voters in door-to-door campaigning. Through this strategy, Denny JA says millions were reached. Concentrated effort were also focussed on Indonesia’s 3 largest provinces: West Java, Central Java and East Java.

To program this strategy, Denny JA cooperated with Timses Volunteers under Eriko. Denny asked Eriko provide 30 volunteer groups in every province. Focus was also made on the campaign trail.

The first strategy was the Jokowi “First 100 Days” Promise. During this period Jokowi promised to focus on addressing three major issues: economic, political/legal and cultural.

These election promises were then advertised. First through Kompas Media and then extended to mainstream media advertising, including billboards, banners and flyers. The team also engaged social media.

Second,  Jokowi’s 5 point political contract with the “small folk” (orang kecil) was made concrete with the pledge of providing one million rupiah per month to poor families, increasing the salaries of civil servants, teachers, police and military, and the promise of creating 10 million new jobs. This contract was also widely advertised.

Black Campaigning “A Poison” in a Country with a History of  Ethnic and Religious Discrimination

Denny JA countered the Allyn orchestrated “black campaign” with positive campaign to attract grassroots and upper middle class engagement in the Jokowi campaign. As Denny JA explained, ” I could have also used a black campaign style to detract from Prabowo’s edge. However, I was not willing to do so. I have been a long time campaigner for an Indonesia Without Discrimination,” he said.

Denny JA denounced the use of religion and ethnicity in political campaigning, although these tactics can engage voters through the politics of fear. As he explained, “I would not be willing to promote a win by making the culture of discrimination in Indonesia worse. That would be a poison that would continue to undermine the public even though the election is over. A mature political consultant should also concerned with the growth of democracy and the rights of the nation,” he said.

Denny JA claims he joined the Jokowi camp “without any official request” but out of a personal wish “to help Jokowi. Willing to spend from his own pocket if needs be, this was a matter of ideals”, he said.

Exit Poll counts show Mr. Widodo with a lead of 3-6 percentage points.

More commentary on the Jokowi strategy, see Inspirasi.co

2 thoughts on “Indonesia’s Presidential Election and the Battle Between Campaign Strategists”

  1. Well, responding your article, i disagree with all the statement above. black campaign, negative or something dont really have a high efect of jokowi voter… Dont forget that , for high educated voters, a leader is not a simple as most the people think. But leader should have holistic point of view to describe what should they do, its ridicolous if the voters has run aways from jokowi side just because of that, but the strongest influence is who’s the back of jokowi. For the sake of national interest, we dont want to entrust this country to a person who is supported by, west, black bussiness man, and a negative power. Dont ask the moeslim why they hate jalaludin ramat, or dont ask the moslem hate PDIP because support the DOLLy the prostitute place, that just the small part why the people dont give their vote for jokowi…

    1. Hi Pak Sandy, thanks for you comment. Actually, I don’t back either leader. It is Indonesia’s choice. I was simply writing on coverage that I saw from Pak Denny JA regarding the differences between his style of political consultancy and and the style of Prabowo’s consultant Mr Rob Allyn.

      For me, if I were a consultant for Pak Prabowo, I would have actually focussed more on the aspects of the lack of experience of Jokowi and so on, rather than engaging in a black campaign style of politics. But I am not a political advisor.

      I’m not sure who you mean specifically is behind Jokowi, bisa dijelaskan maksudnya? I would be interested to hear your side of the story

      Terima kasih banyak untuk respon Anda, Pak Sandy

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