Indonesian Presidential Candidates Call on President to Remain Neutral

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Indonesian Presidential Candidates Call on President to Remain Neutral

The comments from Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo follow the appointment of President Joko Widodo’s son as their rival’s vice presidential running mate.

Indonesian Presidential Candidates Call on President to Remain Neutral

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (second from left) has lunch with presidential candidates (from left) Ganjar Pranowo, Prabowo Subianto, and Anies Baswedan at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 30, 2023.

Credit: Facebook/Presiden Joko Widodo

Two of Indonesia’s three presidential candidates have called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to remain neutral in the run-up to next year’s election, not long after his son registered as a vice presidential candidate on their rival’s ticket.

Jokowi met the three presidential candidates for lunch at the presidential palace in Jakarta yesterday, during which candidates Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo urged the leader to maintain his neutrality ahead of the February 14 polls.

“We often meet with people who love the president and they have a message: the president must maintain neutrality, “Anies, the former governor of Jakarta, told a news conference after the meeting, according to a Reuters report. “He responded positively and well, so our discussion was smooth.”

BenarNews reported that Ganjar, a former governor of Central Java who is representing the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), under whose banner Jokowi contested the 2014 and 2019 elections, said he relayed a similar message to the president.

“He is a good person and God willing he will support a good democratic system,” he said. “Our duty is to safeguard a peaceful election, make sure the state apparatuses are impartial, and make sure the election runs fairly.”

The comments come two weeks after Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto announced Jokowi’s eldest son, Gibran Raka Rakabuming, as his vice-presidential running mate. His participation was enabled by a contentious Constitutional Court ruling on October 16, which stated that any candidate under the minimum age of 40 could run as president or vice-president provided they had been previously elected to regional office. Under the previous rules Gibran, 36, the mayor of Surakarta, would have been barred from running.

The decision has prompted criticism, and the ruling has raised fears that Jokowi is using patronage and nepotism to ensure the continuity of his power after his second and final term comes to an end in October 2024,

The fact that the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is Jokowi’s brother-in-law has prompted claims of political interference aimed at preserving the Indonesian leader’s power once he leaves office. Indonesian activists and legal experts have since filed a number of complaints with the Court, effectively accusing its nine judges of issuing a politically motivated ruling in order to benefit Jokowi’s son.

An endorsement from Jokowi, even an implicit one, has the potential to greatly impact the race, given his astonishing popularity.

While the Indonesian leader has yet to formally anoint a preferred successor, he has sent a number of subtle and varying signals. As Reuters reported earlier this month, Jokowi has offered past hints that he supports Ganjar’s candidacy, as the standard-bearer of the PDI-P. But in recent months, amid rumors of a rift between him and PDI-P chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri, “he has also been covertly marshaling support for controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto.” As per the report, this has included instructions to political parties within his coalition to support Prabowo, and a hint to his massive informal political network, Projo, to back the former Suharto-era general.

For his part, Jokowi yesterday pledged to remain neutral in the election. In a separate meeting yesterday attended by 37 acting mayors, 133 acting district heads, and 23 acting governors, the Indonesian leader emphasized the importance of regional officials to maintain neutrality in the lead-up to the election.

He also urged them to provide full support to the General Election Commission and General Election Supervisory Agency, and to do so without favor to any party or candidate. “I also ask you not to take sides,” he stated. Your work is being monitored. It is very easy to spot which acting regional head is taking sides.”

It is unclear how much these pledges mean in practice. While Jokowi has denied any intention to enshrine his power in a nascent political dynasty, stating that “we should not interfere in our children’s decisions,” the fact that his son is running as Prabowo’s running mate has been widely seen as an informal endorsement of the man he defeated in both 2014 and 2019. With Prabowo holding a narrow lead in the latest opinion polls, the fact is that it may be unnecessary for Jokowi to intervene directly in the course of the election campaign.