Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has flatly denied suggestions that his administration is attempting to extend his term and delay the 2024 presidential elections, after months of suggestions to this effect from senior political figures.
The Indonesian leader, known commonly as Jokowi, made the comments yesterday during a Cabinet meeting to discuss advance preparations for the elections, which will mark the end of Jokowi’s second – and, according to the Indonesian constitution, last – term in office.
Jokowi ordered his ministers to inform the public that the schedule for the next presidential election had been set and would not change. “This needs to be explained so that there are no rumors circulating among people that the government is trying to postpone the election or speculation about the extension of the president’s tenure or a related third term,” Jokowi said. He added that his administration had “agreed that the election will be held on February 14, 2024.”
In recent months, a number of senior politicians and cabinet members have backed the idea of extending Jokowi’s tenure beyond the end of his second term, either by delaying the 2024 election or amending the Constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Under one proposal, the current terms of the executive and legislative branches of the government, both at the national and local levels, would be extended for an additional three years.
Jokowi’s comments are likely to halt the momentum toward a move that many fear would severely undercut the credibility of the relatively successful, if imperfect, democratic system that was established after the collapse of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order in 1998. According to the Associated Press, Jokowi’s statement came a day before students planned to stage a massive protest in the capital Jakarta and several other cities to oppose the plan.
The idea has enjoyed unnerving degrees of backing from within the ruling administration. Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia and Economics Minister Airlangga Hartarto have both the raised idea, while the heads of three prominent parties in the ruling coalition – Golkar, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), and the National Mandate Party, respectively the second, fifth, and sixth-largest parties in parliament –have actively campaigned for a delay to the polls. The influential mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, which is closely associated with the PKB, has also backed the idea.
Perhaps the most prominent booster has been the jack-of-all-trades Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who has gone on the record as saying that a majority of Indonesians support the idea. Speaking on a podcast last month, Luhut claimed without evidence that a majority of Indonesia’s 273 million people supported an extension of Jokowi’s term in office. “My personal opinion, I feel like it will be better. If he (Jokowi) gets an extension… just once,” he said, according to Reuters. (Recent public surveys all show that a healthy majority of respondents are against the idea of extending Jokowi’s tenure, even though he still enjoys sky-high approval ratings.)
Supporters of the idea claim that due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Jokowi’s ambitious and multibillion-dollar plan to build a new capital city in Kalimantan, that he deserves more time to get the country’s economy in order. However, this may well be motivated reasoning given that their own tenures would also likely be extended under such a scenario.
In fact, the mere fact that this idea is being mooted may reflect the dangers of the predominant consensus that has formed under Jokowi, especially during his second term. During his eight years in power, Jokowi has broadened his political tent to such an extent that it now includes a majority of the Indonesian political spectrum.
His parliamentary coalition includes nine political parties, including Gerindra, the political vehicle of the former hardline Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto, who ran for president against Jokowi in both 2014 and 2019. Indeed, Jokowi’s second-term “Onward Indonesia Cabinet,” was the first in Indonesia’s history that included all of the contestants of the most recent presidential election. (After the election, Jokowi welcomed Prabowo into his cabinet as Minister of Defense.) Just two parties – the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party – remain in opposition.
With such a broad range of interests represented within the Jokowi administration, the question is less why the administration might want to rewrite the rules to extend its tenure than why not?
This suggests that while partisan deadlock can pose serious problems to the functioning of democratic systems – witness the current state of the U.S. Congress – serious dangers can also be posed by too much consensus among ruling elites. Writing in the Jakarta Post last month, the newspaper’s senior editor Endy Bayuni argued the suggestion reflected a “dangerous mentality that, if allowed to develop, would be a sure recipe for the end of democracy and a return to authoritarianism.”
He added, “Even if the campaign to delay the 2024 election falters, the fact that we are having this conversation at all shows dangerous subversive minds at work among some of the nation’s top political leaders.”