Discover more from Asia Sentinel
Indonesian Democracy Under Threat in ’24 Polls
Jokowi attempts to fashion a dynasty
The machinations surrounding the nominations for Indonesia’s leading presidential team are setting off alarm bells. A wide range of good-government critics charges that the excesses of the country’s notorious New Order era are returning, overriding the 1998 reforms that were supposed to have eradicated them.
That is because the country’s popular President Joko Widodo, who ends his presidential career as arguably the country’s most influential kingmaker, has not only maneuvered New Order archetype Prabowo Subianto, the defense minister and one-time Suharto son-in-law, into the lead as presidential candidate but supplied his own wholly unqualified son Gibran Rakabuming as vice presidential running mate. Jokowi previously engineered his son into the mayorship of the medium-sized city of Solo only two years ago. Before that, Gibran managed an F&B and Event Organizer business he founded after graduating from the University of Technology Research in Sidney, Australia.
Whether Jokowi wins his nepotism gamble is unsure despite his popularity rating, which remains over 70 percent. Some of Indonesia’s notoriously unreliable surveys indicate Prabowo is ahead, but Ganjar Pranowo, the Central Java governor and candidate of the powerful Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which Jokowi abandoned to pick Prabowo, has never fallen far behind. An Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) survey conducted on October 16-18 had Prabowo ahead, whomever he was paired with, at 35.8 percent of the vote, followed by Ganjar with 30.9 percent and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, at 19.7 percent.
Gibran didn’t qualify as a vice presidential candidate until a pliant Constitutional Court decision changed the age laws to let him in. Critics are calling that a major setback for Indonesian democracy and arguing that the president is aiming at creating a political dynasty. The court last week ruled that citizens who have served or are currently serving as regional heads can run for president or vice president even if they are under 40 years old, the minimum age required by law, thus paving the way for Gibran, 36, to run. The request to lower the minimum age was submitted by a student who was said to have been inspired by Gibran and was decided by Chief Judge Anwar Usman who is married to President Jokowi's sister.
The situation has come under considerable fire for being nepotistic, with warnings it could undermine the democratic process. The Prabowo-Gibran pairing, the critics say, recalls the 34-year reign of the strongman Suharto, notorious for corruption, collusion, and nepotism. For two decades, Prabowo, the former head of Indonesia’s once-feared special forces, was a pariah in international affairs, blamed for atrocities committed by troops he had led. He has spent the subsequent years trying to live down that reputation.
“This puts Indonesian democracy on the edge,” said Public Virtue Institute (PVRI) administrator Anita Wahid. “The current situation is worrying." PVRI Executive Director Yansen Dinata said the court’s decision qualifying Gibran completes an intensive weakening of democracy over the five years of the president’s second term.
The fact that the president is silent about stopping the controversial decision-making process “shows that he agrees with political dynasty,” Yansen said. “The weakening of democracy and civil liberties will increase if the dynasty wins the 2024 presidential election. This is part of a series of events that marks the decline of democracy. This is also a form of normalizing the practices of corruption, collusion, and nepotism. The public is being treated to a pair of dynasties from the Suharto era and the Jokowi era."
The constitutional court’s action, he said, has the potential to trigger further political conflict in the 2024 elections. Although the court has the authority to decide election disputes including alleged violations by the participants and the incumbent president, he said, "with the current condition of the court, it is difficult to hope for a fair decision if there is a political dispute between election participants."
This will be the third time that Prabowo has contested a presidential election. Jokowi brought him into the government as defense minister after losing to him in the 2019 elections, with political analysts saying the move was to neutralize the 72-year-old Prabowo, the scion of a wealthy political family, on the age-old theory that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Now, Prabowo is trying to win over Jokowi's supporters by recruiting Gibran as his deputy. Surveys by several institutions show that the level of public satisfaction with the government's performance is still high, which convinces the parties that Jokowi still has a big influence in determining voter preferences.
Jokowi denied interfering in Gibran's nomination, saying all maneuvers carried out by his son were his personal business. However, Jokowi's relationship with his party, the PDIP, which is fielding its own presidential candidate Ganjar after being refused Jokowi’s blessing, has already deteriorated. Jokowi and Gibran have been labeled traitors by the party although the PDIP has yet to determine whether to expel them.
Gibran, who served first as Surakarta mayor since 2020, wasn’t considered by the PDIP’s powerful leader Megawati Sukarnoputri as ready to become a vice presidential candidate and must first demonstrate his achievements as mayor of Solo. Jokowi, who was previously known as a simple, humble figure with few pretensions to political power is now being characterized as overly ambitions.
However, on various occasions, Jokowi has said this is an important period for Indonesia to achieve its target of becoming a developed country by 2045. He has spoken of wanting to ensure that his legacy on mineral downstreaming and construction of the new capital city Nusantara, is continued by the next leader. Many said that engineering Gibran's participation in the election is another maneuver after several other failed attempts to sustain himself in power including behind-the-scenes efforts to postpone the general election and extend the presidential term of office.
Constitutional law expert Feri Amsari predicted the decision to invite Gibran will retain backfire on Prabowo’s ability to run the government if they win, given Jokowi will retain the power to interfere in the bureaucracies handled by his son. "And that's not healthy for the government," said Feri.