By Tria Dianti and Arie Firdaus
A rival party’s decision to nominate Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s eldest son as its VP candidate has set off a political storm about whether the term-limited leader is trying to retain his grip on power and create a dynasty.
Gibran Rakabuming Raka’s nomination as the running mate of Prabowo Subianto, the leading presidential contender in the 2024 race and a former army general who ran against Jokowi during the two previous elections in the world’s third-largest democracy, has opened a rift between the president and his own party.
Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) last week nominated former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo and Mohammad Mahfud MD, the security minister, as its presidential candidate and his running mate on the ticket. On Monday, it reacted angrily to the counter move by Prabowo’s Gerindra party.
“When the people entrust power to serve the interest of the whole nation, and then it is misused for [personal] ambition, everyone must act with full conviction because Ganjar-Mahfud are on the side of truth,” PDI-P Secretary General Hasto Kristiyanto said in a statement.
Ganjar and Mahfud, he said, were nominated for the sake of the national interest, not for personal or family reasons – a clear swipe at Gibran, who is the mayor of Solo, the Central Java city where his father was born and started his political career.
The other ticket in the expected three-way race to be decided in polling on Feb. 14 is former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan and Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Muhaimin Iskandar.
The announcement of Gibran’s nomination on Sunday came a week after the Constitutional Court amended an electoral law to lower the minimum age for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from 40 to any age, on condition that they had served as lawmakers or regional heads.
The petition to change the law was decided by a panel of judges headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law.
Gibran, a businessman who owns several restaurants and catering services, had initially been portrayed as wary of the limelight and focused on developing his businesses.
Jokowi, whose second and final five-year term ends next October due to constitutional limits, has been widely praised for revamping Indonesia’s dilapidated infrastructure during his nine years in office so far.
But he has also been criticized for his administration’s crackdown on dissent, his weakening of anti-corruption efforts and his compromise on human rights, although he first came to power in 2014 on a progressive campaign that promised to deal with such issues.
Some analysts said that the nomination of Gibran was not a spontaneous decision, but a result of a long and calculated preparation that involved influencing the Constitutional Court.
Dominique Nicky Fahrizal, an analyst at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said one of the steps was to alter the makeup of the court.
“These actions have weakened the values of democracy. There is a scheme to use the court as an instrument of power,” he said.
He added that this could have repercussions on Indonesia’s young democracy, especially if there were disputes involving Prabowo and Gibran.
“This is not just a setback for democracy, but an erosion of democratic principles,” he said.
Jokowi is the first Indonesian president who does not come from the military or political elite. The former furniture businessman and mayor of Solo was elected president in 2014 after a campaign that painted him as a man of the people.
He has improved connectivity and mobility across the archipelago nation, spending billions of U.S. dollars on building roads, bridges, airports, ports, dams, and power plants.
But some activists and academics say Jokowi has ignored human rights protection in pursuit of economic development, and that he has overseen a decline of civil liberties during his time in office.
Yoes C. Kenawas, a researcher at the Advanced Research Center of Atma Jaya Catholic University, described Gibran’s nomination as being part of Jokowi’s long, neat and systematic process of building a dynasty.
“Jokowi seems to be concerned about who will continue his legacy when he is no longer in office,” Yoes told BenarNews.
One of the most ambitious and controversial projects of Jokowi’s administration is the relocation of the capital city from Jakarta, a sprawling and congested megacity, to a new site in East Kalimantan, a province on Borneo island. The project is expected to cost U.S. $33 billion.
Indonesia has seen a trend of democratic backsliding under Jokowi, according to Yoes.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg because we have also seen declines in other indicators such as freedom of expression,” he said.
“This will reinforce the thesis of many people that only those who have a lot of money and are well connected can join the contest,” he added.
In his second administration, Jokowi appointed Prabowo, an ex-special forces commander who was accused of being tied to human rights abuses during his career as a soldier, as defense minister. Prabowo has been the frontrunner for much of the campaign season this time around and currently holds a narrow lead over Ganjar, according to recent opinion polls.
Jokowi has not openly endorsed any of the candidates, but earlier this month, a large and influential network of his supporters, “ProJo,” endorsed Prabowo as his successor.
Gibran’s elevation to vice presidential candidate appeared to signal the outgoing president’s unspoken endorsement of his onetime rival and the potential transformation of his legacy into a dynasty.
“As parents we can only support and give [our] blessing,” Jokowi told reporters on Sunday, referring to his son’s nomination. “It’s his decision because he’s an adult and we should not interfere in our children’s decisions.”
Puan Maharani, the deputy chair of PDI-P and parliamentary speaker, called on Jokowi to be fair to all contestants.
“I’m sure Mr. Jokowi is able to act as the president of Indonesia, the president of all Indonesian people,” she said.
Some ordinary Indonesians see Gibran’s candidacy as nepotistic and question his qualifications.
“It’s such a pity. What is he looking for? He should finish his job first,” Hapsari Kusumaningdyah, a 32-year-old resident of Solo, told BenarNews.
“He has become a role model for the young people in Solo. It’s a shame that he leaves before his term ends.”
Andi Nugroho, a 38-year-old Jakarta resident, expressed his dismay at Gibran’s nomination, saying that it violated the principles of honesty and fairness.
“This is messy. It’s clear that this is a family plan to prepare the son,” he told BenarNews.
He said that Jokowi, as the national leader, should have avoided any appearance of favoritism or nepotism.
“The president should be the main one to avoid any conflict of interest,” he said.