By Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled Monday that politicians under 40 years old can run for president and vice president in the 2024 elections.
The decision by the court, whose chief judge is the brother-in-law of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, could pave the way for Jokowi’s eldest son to contest the race as a vice-presidential candidate while his father prepares to leave office because of term limits, observers said.
Meanwhile, a large network of pro-Jokowi volunteers this past weekend endorsed Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, the president’s main adversary in the 2014 and 2019 general election, for his candidacy in the 2024 presidential contest.
The name of Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s 36-year-old son who is the mayor of Solo, is being floated as a potential running mate for Prabowo as well as for Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java who is also campaigning for the presidency and belongs to Jokowi’s party.
Indonesia’s current election law sets the age limit at 40, but the Constitutional Court amended it to allow exceptions for candidates who have served as members of legislative councils or regional heads at the provincial or city level, regardless of their age.
The court’s decision was announced by Chief Judge Anwar Usman, who is married to Jokowi’s sister. The court had “partially granted” the request in a petition filed by a university student who had said that Gibran inspired him, Anwar said.
“The court believe that state officials who have experience as members of parliament, governors, mayors or district heads are entitled to participate in the national leadership contest in this case as presidential or vice-presidential candidates in the election even though they are under 40 years old,” said a member of the nine-judge panel, Guntur Hamzah.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s most populous democracy, is notorious for corruption and nepotism at all levels of government. Questions have trailed Jokowi in recent months about whether this former furniture salesman from Solo is trying to keep his imprint on politics or build a political dynasty by promoting his family members and loyalists to government.
He has rejected such suggestions.
Monday’s ruling was supported by five of the nine judges on the bench, including the chief judge, but the remaining four cast dissenting opinions.
One from the minority, Saldi Isra, called the ruling “strange.” He noted that the court on the same day had rejected similar petitions by ruling that the age limit was the prerogative of the legislature.
The court heard seven petitions that sought to lower the minimum age for candidates to as low as 21. The petitions argued that the current law discriminates against young people and violates their constitutional rights.
But the court only ruled in favor of the one petition filed by the university student from Solo, Jokowi’s hometown.
‘Not a level playing field’
Some legal experts and activists said the ruling showed favoritism toward Jokowi’s family and undermined the democratic process.
“This is a dangerous political move for our democracy by privileging one person, paving the way for injustice,” said Feri Amsari, a constitutional law expert from Andalas University in Padang. “It’s not a level playing field.”
Hendardi, who leads Setara Institute, a group that monitors political and democratic rights, said the ruling was a way to keep Jokowi’s family in power.
“No need for complicated analysis to say that the Constitutional Court’s decision is intended to make it easier for Jokowi’s son to follow in his father’s footsteps,” Hendardi said.
Last week, Jokowi said he had not met his son for months as he shrugged off accusations of building a political dynasty.
“I leave it to the people to decide,” he said.
On Monday, the president insisted that he did not meddle in the elections.
“I emphasize that I do not interfere in the matters of presidential or vice-presidential candidates,” Jokowi said in a statement released by his office.
He said any question about the court’s ruling should be directed at the judges.
“I do not want to give an opinion on the Constitutional Court’s ruling, lest I be accused of interfering,” he said.
Gibran, for his part, said Prabowo had repeatedly offered him to be his running mate.
“Everyone knows that. He has asked me many times,” Gibran was quoted as saying last week by Detikcom, an online news portal.
Jokowi’s other son, Kaesang Pangarep, was recently appointed as the chair of the Indonesian Solidarity Party, a small party with some seats in regional legislative councils.
The presidential election, scheduled for Feb. 14, 2024, is expected to be a three-way race between Prabowo, Ganjar, and Anies Baswedan, an ex-governor of Jakarta.
Ganjar has been nominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).
Analysts have said that Jokowi’s relationship with PDIP has deteriorated in recent months and the rift has become more apparent as supporters press him to endorse a successor who can continue his policies and programs.
A survey conducted by Polling Institute, a private pollster, showed that Prabowo topped the list of presidential candidates with 36.5%, followed by Ganjar with 31.2%, and Anies with 18.7%.
The court’s ruling came two days after the vast volunteer network of Jokowi, known as Projo – an acronym for Pro Jokowi – declared its support for Prabowo’s presidential run at the group’s national meeting in Jakarta on Saturday.
“We, Projo, agree to support Mr. Prabowo Subianto as the presidential candidate in the upcoming 2024 election,” said Budi Arie Setiadi, Projo’s chairman and Jokowi’s communications minister.
The Projo volunteers had helped Jokowi defeat Prabowo, a former army special forces general and the former son-in-law of longtime Indonesian dictator Suharto, in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections.
Bivitri Susanti, a constitutional law expert from Indonesia Jentera Law School, said the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Monday was binding.
“But the dynamics, including a dissenting opinion from one of the judges who highlighted the unusual legal reasoning, shows sharp differences and reinforces the political character of the decision,” she told BenarNews.
Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, deputy chairman of Prabowo’s Gerindra party, declined to comment on the prospect of Gibran being paired on the ticket with Prabowo.
The court ruling “not only opens up opportunities for Gibran, but also for all regional heads who are under 40,” he told BenarNews.