Indonesian Court Again Makes Controversial Tweak to Election Rules

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Indonesian Court Again Makes Controversial Tweak to Election Rules

The Supreme Court ruling will pave the way for President Joko Widodo’s youngest son to run in the Jakarta gubernatorial election on November 27.

Indonesian Court Again Makes Controversial Tweak to Election Rules
Credit: Photo 310928895 © Yuliia Romashko |

Indonesia’s Supreme Court yesterday ordered a revision of election rules to lower slightly the age of eligibility for candidates running in the country’s gubernatorial elections, to the reported benefit of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s youngest son.

In its ruling, judges stated that the minimum age requirement of 30 applies at the time a regional official is sworn in rather than when they are nominated to run in an election, the news site Tempo reported. This very specific tweak is an apparent attempt to permit Kaesang Pangarep, Jokowi’s second son, to run in the upcoming Jakarta gubernatorial election, which will take place on November 27 along with elections for hundreds of governors, deputy governors, district heads, and municipal mayors.

Kaesang will turn 30 in December – the month after the election, but before the date of inauguration for the victorious candidates.

The Supreme Court ruling bears a close resemblance to the Constitutional Court ruling in October that allowed Jokowi’s other son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, to run in February’s election as vice-president alongside Prabowo Subianto. That ruling effectively waived the minimum age requirement of 40 for any politician elected to power at lower levels, where the age requirement is lower. (Gibran was elected as mayor of the city of Solo in Central Java in late 2020.) A week after the ruling, Prabowo named Gibran his running-mate, and the pair won a decisive victory at the February 14 election. They will be sworn in in October.

The Constitutional Court decision was widely condemned as an act of nepotism designed to facilitate Jokowi’s creation of a family political dynasty, given that his brother-in-law Anwar Usman was then serving as the court’s chief justice. After an ethics investigation, Anwar was forced to resign as chief justice, though he retained his position on the court.

For some time, it has been rumored that Kaesang would follow his brother in running for regional office, under Prabowo’s Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) party. This week, according to the Nusantara Notes newsletter, a Gerindra politician caused a stir when he uploaded a fake election poster on Instagram depicting Budisatrio Djiwandono, Prabowo’s nephew, as a candidate for Jakarta governor, with Kaesang as his running-mate.

Kaesang has virtually no political experience; prior to last September, when he was named out of the blue as the head of the youth-oriented Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), he was better known to Indonesians as a YouTube personality and entrepreneur who ran a clothing line and chain of restaurants.

If Kaesang teams up with Budisatrio in the Jakarta gubernatorial election, it would replicate and formalize the alliance that saw Jokowi back Prabowo’s candidacy for the presidency, over that of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party under whose banner he ran for office in 2014 and 2019.

Like the Constitutional Court’s October ruling, yesterday’s decision raises hard questions about the impartiality of the judiciary, and Jokowi’s ambitions to build a political dynasty that will ensure that his influence persists after he leaves office in October.

The petition seeking the change was filed on May 27, just three days before yesterday’s ruling by the small Garuda Party. According to a report by BenarNews, the party’s Secretary General Yohanna Murtika denied that the petition was to facilitate Kaesang’s eligibility, adding that the lawsuit sought to benefit  “anyone who has aspirations to serve the nation and state.” He said that young people should not be “limited by age.”

However, the extremely finicky nature of the change – at most, it will benefit a mere handful of potential 29-year-old candidates – makes it hard to sustain the pretense that this was motivated by a broad concern for the inadequacy of the current rules.

Amid the renewed controversy, the building blocks of Jokowi’s incipient dynasty are sliding into place. The president’s son-in-law, Bobby Nasution, currently the mayor of Medan, is set to bid for an upgrade to the post of governor of North Sumatra on November 27. He will also do so under Prabowo’s Gerindra party, after having left the PDI-P last year.

In a good illustration of the promiscuous nature of elite Indonesian politics, his likely PDI-P opponent is reported to be Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, who was Jokowi’s deputy during his period as Jakarta governor, and then lost the Jakarta election in 2017 in dramatic fashion to Anies Baswedan, a former education minister. Anies in turn came second to Prabowo in this year’s presidential election.