Can Jokowi Influence Indonesia’s Presidential Election? – Analysis


By Made Supriatma

A long-standing rumour in Indonesian politics has finally become a reality. Prabowo Subianto has selected Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the current mayor of Solo and the son of President Jokowi, as his running mate for the 2024 presidential race. This decision was made just a week after the Constitutional Court relaxed the age limit requirement for vice presidential candidate.

Notably, a month earlier, Kaesang Pengarep, the youngest son of Jokowi, was appointed as the chairman of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) just two days after becoming a member.

The entrance of two of the president’s sons into these crucial political positions reflects President Jokowi’s confidence in his political influence. Furthermore, it underscores Jokowi’s capacity to act autonomously from political parties and other political forces.

By throwing his support behind Prabowo, Jokowi wields independent power even apart from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle — the largest political party in Indonesia, which has supported him in five election victories and propelled him to the presidency.

Prabowo Subianto has also leveraged this momentum by emphasising his closeness to Jokowi to show that he has the president’s blessing and will continue the president’s agenda. Jokowi’s decision to appoint Prabowo Subianto as his defence minister and endorse him in the 2024 presidential election whitewashes his extensive record of human rights violations.

Jokowi has acknowledged that he would interfere in the presidential election, positioning himself as a kingmaker in this race. Though he has never explicitly disclosed his candidate preferences, he has provided hints regarding whom he might support. All indications suggest that his support is leaning toward Prabowo Subianto.

Various polls have demonstrated Jokowi’s popularity. His job approval ratings have surpassed 80 per cent, a figure typically associated with autocrats. Scholars, pundits and politicians argue that these high approval ratingshave enabled Jokowi to interfere in the election and select his own successor. But high job approval ratings from a departing president do not necessarily correlate with the power to influence how voters cast their ballots.

Some argue that Jokowi enjoys a high approval rating due to his administrative skills, which have led to economic success. His leadership has brought Indonesia back to the forefront of developing nations.

But there are other factors that this analysis tends to overlook. Jokowi’s expertise in political horse trading and his ability to prevent political conflicts from spilling into the masses have played a significant role.

Jokowi is also a quick learner. Just a few years into his administration, he transformed himself from an outsider to Jakarta’s elite to the most powerful insider. This position reversal was especially evident since the protests against his ally and former governor of Jakarta Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama. While the protests were directed against Ahok, if successful, they would have diminished Jokowi’s power. Learning from this experience, Jokowi realised that he cannot come to power without the support of Jakarta’s power players.

Elite unification occurred during Jokowi’s second term. His administration garnered support from seven out of the nine existing political parties. The remaining two parties outside the government, the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party, lack the strength to form a substantial opposition.

The unification of these elites empowered Jokowi’s administration to successfully pass laws aligned with his agenda. These legislative achievements include the Omnibus Law, the revision of the criminal code and the National Capital Law. The latter provided the legal foundation for Jokowi’s flagship project, the establishment of the new national capital, Nusantara.

Jokowi maximised the use of the ‘authoritarian infrastructure’ inherited from the previous administration. He weakened institutions that were intended to serve as checks on his executive power, such as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), and employed the police and legal authorities to silence critics. He silenced opposition voices, especially those from conservative Islamic circles, such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

The extensive use of the Internet and Electronic Transactions Law has instilled a climate of fear among civil society. This law was also employed to suppress the 2019 #ReformasiDikorupsi protests — the only major protests against the Jokowi government’s policy on the revision of the KPK law, a move that weakened this anti-corruption institution.

Jokowi continues to campaign, crafting the narrative of his own success. Jokowi has won the internet, allowing him to shape the perception of his government’s administrative accomplishments.

The convergence of these factors has unquestionably elevated Jokowi’s status to the most powerful political figure in Indonesia. But whether this popularity can effectively translate into votes in the 2024 Indonesian election remains to be seen.

About the author: Made Supriatma is Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.

Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum

East Asia Forum

East Asia Forum is a platform for analysis and research on politics, economics, business, law, security, international relations and society relevant to public policy, centred on the Asia Pacific region. It consists of an online publication and a quarterly magazine, East Asia Forum Quarterly, which aim to provide clear and original analysis from the leading minds in the region and beyond.

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