ISEAS Perspective 2021/9 “Batam’s 2020 Mayoral Election: Populism, Economic Recovery and Covid – 19” by Ady Muzwardi and Siwage Dharma Negara

A voter casting their votes for Pilkada which was held on 9 December 2020. Source: Yogi Novianto, Rudi-Amsakar campaign team, Batam.


  • Batam’s mayoral election on 9 December 2019 was a lopsided contest between a popular incumbent pair, Muhammad Rudi-Amsakar Achmad, and a newcomer pair, Lukita Dinarsyah Tuwo-Abdul Basyid Has. 
  • The incumbents convincingly won the election with 73 per cent of the votes. Their success can be attributed to support from the political parties that dominate the local parliament and their track record in overseeing developmental progress in Batam.
  • Covid  – 19 also contributed to the incumbents’ success as various social assistance programmes were distributed to the grassroots community in the run – up to the election campaign.
  • The challenger failed to offer a differentiated and attractive campaign programme to challenge the incumbent’s popularity. His strategy to boost his appeal through social media paled in comparison to the incumbent’s popularity with the grassroots community.

* Ady Muzwardi is Lecturer at Department of International Relations, Universitas Maritim Raja Ali Haji and a Doctoral Student, Department of International Relations, Padjajaran University.  Siwage Dharma Negara is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.


Batam is the economic powerhouse of the Riau Islands (Kepulauan Riau or Kepri in short) Province, accounting for 65 – 70 per cent of Kepri’s total GDP. Its population has increased from around 455,000 in 2000 to around 1.4 million in 2019, many of them young people moving into the industrial and service trade sectors from other parts of Indonesia. These internal migrants play an important role in the economy and in the process increase their political stakes in Batam. Nevertheless, Batam’s politics is heavily influenced by the local ethnic Malay community (Carruthers 2018).[1]

What is interesting for the 2020 elections is the fact that both Batam and its mother – province, Kepri conducted simultaneous elections for mayoral and gubernatorial positions, respectively. Moreover, like other parts of the country, the city’s social and economic situation has been adversely affected by the Covid  – 19 pandemic. One day before election day, Batam remained a “red zone” with total accumulated infection cases of 4,432, and an average increase of 40 cases per day.[2]

Figure 1: Numbers of registered voters and turnout rate in Batam’s mayoral election, 2015 and 2020

Source: General Elections Commission (KPU)

Interestingly, concerns about the health risk did  not reduce the enthusiasm of voters to go to the ballot box. Data from the General Elections Commission (KPU) indicates a 12% increase in turnout rate in 2020 compared to the 2015 mayoral election (Figure 1). In 2020, the number of voters who participated in the election reached 377,350,[3] compared to 319,623 voters for the previous election.[4]

This short essay examines the processes and outcomes of Batam’s mayoral election. The next section discusses the candidates and their campaign programme, while the subsequent section discusses the factors behind the triumph of the incumbent. The last section concludes with some projections of Batam’s leadership going forward.


In September 2020, the General Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum or KPU) announced two candidate pairs who would be competing in the 9 December elections in Batam.  The incumbent mayor, and current ex – officio Head of Batam Indonesia Free Trade Zone Authority (BP Batam), Muhammad Rudi, would compete against the former head of BP Batam, Lukita Dinarsyah Tuwo. The incumbent is an ethnic Malay politician from Tanjung Pinang. His candidacy is supported by eight political parties; Partai Nasional Demokrat (Nasdem), Partai Golongan Karya (Golkar), Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN), Partai Hati Nurani Rakyat (Hanura), Partai Demokrat, Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) serta Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI). His challenger, Lukita, in turn, is supported by three political parties; Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI – P), Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) and Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya (Gerindra).

It is noteworthy that although Nasdem and PDI – P are allies on the national political stage, they have become opponents in the Batam and Kepri elections. Moreover, PDI – P even joined Gerindra, its opposition on the 2019 presidential election, in contesting against Nasdem and Golkar. This interesting display indicates a key difference between local and national politics. For local elections, Indonesia’s political parties tend to put less priority on the ideological dimension. This has in turn led to transactional politics, developing based purely on mere interests for power (Nugroho, Kenawas, Syarief 2020).[5]

An early survey by the Research Center Media Group, conducted in January – March, pointed to Haris Lambey as the likely candidate (26% of total respondents) to become Mayor of Batam. The popularity of Haris, who is an ethnic Bugis police officer stationed in the provincial police headquarter (POLDA Kepri), however, did  not earn him any support from the main political parties, i.e., Golkar and PDI – P, which had their respective candidates. In this early survey, Muhammad Rudi was in second place with 18%. Lukita was in fourth with 10%.

Meanwhile, a survey by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) conducted in the same period, showed Muhammad Rudi’s electability to be very high, reaching close to 80% while his partner, Amsakar, reached 54%. In mid – November, a survey conducted through social media (Facebook) also reflected similar trends where the popularity of Rudi – Amsakar far surpassed the Lukita – Basyid pair, evidently shown in the percentage differences of 69% versus 31% (Table 1).

Table 1: Candidates’ electability based on early polling

Source: Authors compilation, 2020

Lukita is not originally from Batam or Riau Islands, but is a Sundanese professional bureaucrat turn politician. He had spent time in Batam since 2017 when he served as Head of Batam Indonesia Free Trade Zone Authority (BP Batam).  He is a PDI-P cadre and a former member of the Research and Development Agency within PDI-P. He joined the party in 2019, just before the elections. PDI-P decided to support Lukita based on several considerations. First, he had served as Head of BP Batam from October 2017 to January 2019. Second, Lukita has a long track record in the government. He was Deputy Minister at the Ministry of National Development Planning (Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional/BAPPENAS) (January 2010-October 2014) and served as Secretary of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy (December 2014- October 2017). Third, Lukita is also seen as a reformist, being previously assigned by the central government to revitalise Batam’s economy.[6]

Lukita is paired with Abdul Basyid Has, a local politician. Basyid is the Head of the Regional Leadership Council (DPW) of the PKB Party, Kepri Province. Apart from having political influence within PKB, Basyid also has quite a strong business background. He is the president director of a shipping company, PT Takang Emas Samudra and owner of Hang Nadim Malay School Batam. Basyid is the richest candidate in terms of assets value compared to the other three candidates (Table 2).

Table 2: Wealth value of Batam’s regional head candidates


Apart from PDI-P and PKB, Lukita-Basyid also received political support from two other parties, namely the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI). In terms of electoral support in the 2019 elections, the four-party coalition has 34% of the votes in the regional legislative council (Table 3).

Table 3: Partisan Support for the Lukita-Basyid coalition

 Source: General Election Commission (KPU) Batam 2019[8]

Muhammad Rudi is the current Mayor of Batam (2016-2021). Moreover, he also served as the ex-officio Head of the Batam Indonesia Free Trade Zone Authority (BP Batam).  This is a consequence of the Government Regulations No 62/2019 concerning the new management of Batam FTZ. The regulation was passed by the central government to end the problem of leadership dualism in Batam.[8] In the past, Batam city mayor and Head of BP Batam were held by two different persons.

Rudi, who is a party cadre and Head of the Regional Leadership Council (DPW) of the Nasdem Party, Kepri Province, partnered with Amsakar Achmad, a former career official in the municipal administration. Amsakar is a Nasdem cadre and Head of Regional Representative Council (DPD) of the party in Batam.[9] Rudi and Amsakar also contested and won in the 2015 Batam mayoral election.

Having candidate pairs coming from the same party in a Pilkada election is quite rare in Indonesia. Nevertheless, Rudi-Amsakar was also supported by the Golkar Party, PKS, PAN, Hanura, Democratic Party, PPP, and PSI. The coalition controls 66% of the seats in the Batam legislature (Table 4).

Table 4: Partisan Support for the Rudi-Amsakar Partnership

Source: KPU Kota Batam 2019[10]

Wilson and Hui (2020) have observed that dynastic politics is a persistent feature of Indonesian politics.[11] Indeed, Batam and the Riau Islands Province did showcase dynastic politics at work. Rudi’s wife, Marlin Agustina, also contested in the regional election and won as Vice-governor of Kepri Province, accompanying the elected governor, Ansar Ahmad.[12] Both Rudi and his wife were supported by Nasdem and Golkar party.

Campaign Programme

In the campaign, Lukita-Basyid offered to overcome various problems in Batam and make Batam an international city. Their campaign theme was “Batam Bahagia Mendunia” or “Batam Prosperous and Globalized”. The word “bahagia” is commonly associated with prosperity. To achieve prosperity, they promised economic growth of 7% at the end of their leadership (2024). The word “mendunia” or “globalized” reflected their vision to transform Batam into a world city, with international standard in services, security, and environmental quality.[13] 

Rudi-Amsakar offered quite a similar campaign theme, which was “Terwujudnya Batam sebagai bandar dunia madani yang modern, berkeadilan, dan sejahtera”, translated as “the realization of Batam as a modern, just, and prosperous global port city”. This vision was more or less similar to their 2015 campaign theme.[14]

Moreover, Rudi-Amsakar proposed six priority programmes, including acceleration of economic recovery, more equitable distribution of economic development, improvement of human resources, promoting investment, developing hinterland areas, and reforming the bureaucracy (see Appendix). 

Role of campaign team

Both candidate pairs each had their respective campaign team or “tim sukses”. Lukita-Basyid’s consisted of active members of the regional parliament (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah or DPRD), political party members, members of NGOs (Organisasi Masyarakat or Ormas), and private groups (Figure 2). Rudi-Amsakar’s team had almost the same composition, involving many elements of political parties and active DPRD members. The high involvement of political party elements and active DPRD members indicated their strategy to attract their respective party-based constituents.

Figure 2: Campaign team composition

Source: Authors’ compilation, 2020

The two candidates also sought support from various ethnic-cultural organizations, such as the Local Youth Association (Perpat), the Batak-Mandailing community, the Minang Family Association, and others.

Rudi-Amsakar’s campaign team used three teams of volunteers, namely, “Rudi-Amsakar Community”, “HMR Volunteers”, and “Friends of Rudi-Amsakar” (Shabara). Specifically, the Shabara team, which consists of mainly young people, targeted youth groups. The “HMR Volunteers” targeted the general public such as workers’ groups, millennial communities, and social organizations. Meanwhile, “Rudi-Amsakar Community” focused on housewives.


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a direct election campaign involving big crowds remained prohibited. As a result, both candidate pairs used social media as their campaign means. Here, the campaign team of both camps targeted the millennial group between 24 and 38 years old. Based on Statistics Indonesia (Badan Pusat Statistik or BPS) data, 560,498 people have voting rights in Batam, and around 62% of voters in the city belong to the millennial group.

Both camps used Facebook and Instagram as their platforms, but only Lukita-Basyid’s campaign team included Twitter as an alternative platform. This last platform, however, was probably not as effective as the others since few people use Twitter in Batam. In their Facebook account, Lukita-Basyid promoted photos and flyers containing pictures of the candidates and their slogan “Yuk Berubah” – “Let’s change”. In addition, it also shared videos featuring various problems in the city and their offered solutions if elected. Overall, the social media campaign was observed to be not quite effective in boosting their popularity. Despite the Lukita-Basyid pair having slightly more Facebook followers, the incumbent’s political popularity remained too strong for the challenger. This was because the incumbent pair had shown some credible progress in developing the city’s infrastructure and perhaps most importantly, had access to deliver direct social assistance programmes to the community, such as distribution of staple food, in the run-up to the election campaign. All these greatly increased their popularity.


The Batam mayoral election in 2020 was a battle between a popular incumbent and a newcomer in local politics. In fact, the battle was lopsided. The quick count results released by the General Elections Commission (KPU) showed a convincing win for the incumbent, with 73% of the votes going his way, up from the 60% he won in the previous election.

Figure 3. Real count results by sub-districts

Source: Authors’ calculation, the General Elections Commission of Batam City, 2020

Compared to Rudi-Amsakar, who have been the incumbent Mayor-Vice-Mayor since 2016, the popularity of Lukita-Basyid was not very significant. Lukita had only served as Head of BP Batam for 15 months and he mostly worked outside Batam. This could have decreased his visibility to the general population. Figure 3 shows that Rudi-Amsakar won convincingly in all sub-districts in Batam. This set of results is a repeat of the 2015 mayoral election’s results, which also showed the same pair winning in all sub-districts (Figure 4). In the 2015 election, the pair competed against Ria Saptarika-Sulistiana.[15]

Figure 4. Real count results by sub-districts, 2015

Source: Authors’ calculation, the General Elections Commission of Batam City, 2015

Based on real count data per sub – district for both the 2015 and 2020 elections, Rudi – Amsakar’s biggest ballot pocket remained in Sagulung sub – district. In this election, there was a sharp increase in the number of voters for Rudi – Amsakar. 73% of the votes in Sagulung were cast for the pair. This result represented a sharp increase from their achievement in the 2015 election, where they only received 57% of the votes in the same sub – district. The surge in votes was the result of several popular policies implemented by the incumbent Mayor. These included the provision of free land certificates to the Sagulung community, plans for the reduction of annual compulsory housing allowance (UWTO), educational assistance and relaxation of school zoning rules.[16]

It is important to note that Covid – 19 greatly influenced Rudi – Amsakar’s electability. In response to the pandemic, the city administration headed by Rudi had initiated several social assistance (Bansos) programmes. These included basic food packages for the community, funded by Batam Municipal Government and BP Batam. As mentioned above, Rudi is the Mayor of Batam as well as the ex – officio Head of BP Batam.  The bulk of the Bansos was given before the start of the campaign period in November. Between March and November, people had already received some real assistance from the city government. During the election campaign, the incumbent is obliged to take official leave and is prohibited from using government facilities for political campaigns. Nevertheless, during the campaign period, various social assistance programmes were continuously channelled and funded by their political party, i.e., Nasdem, from providing masks and food supplies, to the handing out of hand sanitizers with the slogan “Nasdem Sayang Kamu” or “Nasdem loves you”.[17]

In fact, Nasdem played a critical role in ensuring a win for the incumbent mayor. The party was very active campaigning for Rudi, who is the Head of the Regional Leadership Council (DPW) Nasdem of Kepri Province. Lukita, on the other hand, did not get full political support, especially from PDI – P, which was too concentrated on campaigning for its own candidates, Soerya Respationo – Iman Sutiawan, in the Kepri gubernatorial election. The latter lost in the election, while Rudi’s wife, Marlin Agustina, won the election as Vice Governor of Kepri Province.

Finally, campaign restrictions due to Covid – 19 made it difficult for Lukita – Basyid’s campaign team to garner support. As a result, their campaign strategies relied heavily on social media and networking with elite community leaders, such as IKBI (Ikatan Keluarga Batak Islam), IKMAL (Ikatan Keluarga Maluku), and Banteng Muda Indonesia (BMI). This had limited impact on their electability. Meanwhile, the Rudi – Amsakar team effectively approached local neighbourhood through Hamlet Associations Forum (Forum Rukun Tetangga/Rukun Warga Kota Batam) and other social institutions managed by the urban community government department. Moreover, as incumbent leaders in Batam, Rudi – Amsakar could use official government channels to communicate with the populace, including providing Covid – 19 related social assistance programmes, such as food packages. This was especially done before the start of the election campaign period (between March and October). Such channels proved more effective than the social media campaign, as the latter did not translate into tangible benefits for the populace. All in all, Rudi – Amsakar’s campaign strategy was more effective in reaching the grassroots.  


The success of Rudi – Amsakar in winning their second term can be attributed to solid political support from eight political parties. The pair’s dominance in the two elections shows their growing popularity and political consolidation among the bureaucratic elites and the grassroots community in Batam. The challenger, despite high expectations to bring changes, had however failed to offer a differentiated and attractive campaign programme. The incumbent had a strong advantage given their achievements in building infrastructure in the city and most importantly their access to social assistance programmes to support the grassroots community from the pandemic.

Looking at Rudi’s campaign programmes, one may expect a continuation of some economic ones, such as the zoning programme, i.e., setting a demarcation between trade and government areas to optimise land use; promotion of tourism special economic zones; and continuation of some infrastructure projects, including port and roads.

What remains unclear is their strategy for accelerating Batam’s economic recovery, especially its lacklustre manufacturing sector.

Appendix: Table A1: Lukita – Basyid’ Campaign Programme

Source: Vision and Mission document of Lukita – Basyid, 2020

Table A2: Rudi-Amsakar’s Campaign Programme

Source: Vision and Mission document of Rudi-Amsakar, 2020

ISEAS Perspective 2021/9, 4 February 2021.



[1] Andrew M. Carruthers (2018). Living on the Edge: Being Malay (and Bugis) in the Riau Islands, ISEAS Trends No.12.




[5] Yanuar Nugroho, Yoes Kenawas, and Sofie S. Syarief. A Post-mortem Analysis of Indonesia’s 2020 Pilkada, forthcoming.






[11] /wp-content/uploads/2020/12/ISEAS_Perspective_2020_140-ii.pdf



[14] In the 2015 Batam Pilkada, Rudi-Amsakar’s campaign theme was  ”Terwujudnya Batam sebagai Bandar Dunia Madani yang Berdaya Saing, Maju, Sejahtera, dan Bermartabat” or the realization of Batam as a Competitive, Advanced, Prosperous, and Respectable Global Port

[15] The battle between the two pairs was a competition between two old-guards. Both Rudi and Ria have both served as Deputy Mayor of Batam during Ahmad Dahlan’s mayoral period (2006-2016).



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