Jokowi’s dynasty: Power consolidation sparks debate

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Jokowi’s dynasty: Power consolidation sparks debate

Sunday, 05 November 2023 | Makhan Saikia

Jokowi’s dynasty: Power consolidation sparks debate

The upcoming Indonesian elections mark a significant turning point as President Jokowi Widodo, in office since 2014, steps down due to constitutional term limits. His legacy is overshadowed by allegations of establishing a political dynasty, with his sons poised for prominent roles. The recent Constitutional Court decision and Jokowi’s endorsement of Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto signal a shifting political landscape. As Indonesia heads into a pivotal electoral season, questions surrounding democracy and dynastic politics loom large.

Indonesia, the third-largest democracy in the world, is preparing for its presidential and parliamentary elections early next year. Its current President Jokowi Widodo, who has been ruling the country since 2014, is leaving office this month. He will be completing two terms this year and the Constitution of Indonesia does not allow a President to contest for the third term. So, he has to quit the office.

Once Jokowi was symbolised as “Democratic Hope” in Indonesian politics, largely marred by long family or hereditary rule, when he was sworn in as the 7th President of the country a decade back. He rose to the position of the Governor of Jakarta from his initial career in carpentry and furniture business. He was a complete outsider who swiftly rose to the elite echelons of power. Indeed, he was hailed as a beacon of hope all across the nations of South-East Asia.

The concern and allegation regarding Jokowi is that he has quietly been establishing a new “political dynasty” over the last decade. Now, this is all out in the open. He is introducing his two sons — Gibran Rakabuming Raka (36 years old) and Kaesang Pangarep (28 years old) — ahead of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for next February. Currently, Gibran, the elder son, serves as the Mayor of Solo (also known as Surakarta City), while the younger one, Kaesang, was appointed as the Chairman of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) just two days after becoming a member. Additionally, Jokowi’s son-in-law holds the position of Mayor in the City of Medan, North Sumatra. This clearly illustrates Jokowi’s full confidence and influence over his party and various political constituencies with whom he has been closely aligned for a decade now.

Interestingly, Jokowi’s initiatives have received substantial support from a historic decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, made just this month. The Court addressed a petition requesting a reduction of the minimum age for high political offices, such as the President and Vice-President, from the current age of 40 to 35. Chief Justice Anwar Usman, who also happens to be President Jokowi’s brother-in-law, along with a panel of nine judges, dismissed the petition to lower the age limit, affirming that the minimum age requirement remains at 40 years for presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

However, they noted there could be exceptions for those who have served as regional leaders or have been elected as such. This decision seemed to favor Gibran, indicating his path towards becoming the next Vice-President of Indonesia. The judges emphasised that the determination of age limits should be a matter for Parliament, and the petition lacked justification according to existing Indonesian law. It is worth noting that even prior to the verdict, the Court had received nearly seven requests for judicial review, all advocating for a lower age limit for the offices of the President and Vice-President. Some of these requests came from the PSI, which has long championed the cause of young voters in the country. The Court’s decision carries significant weight, coming on October 16, just days before the deadline for candidate registration in next year’s presidential and vice-presidential elections. This suggests that the Court, in coordination with the political establishment in Jakarta, has effectively removed all obstacles for Jokowi’s elder son to assume the role of Vice-President.

Currently, Jokowi is endorsing his Defence Minister, Prabowo Subianto, as the presidential candidate for 2024. This indicates that Subianto has the endorsement of the outgoing President, effectively glossing over his long record of human rights violations in the country. Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has selected Ganjar Pranowo, the Governor of Central Java, as their residential candidate for next year’s election. However, it is widely understood whom Jokowi will ultimately support. Just a week after the Court’s decision, Subianto announced Gibran, President Jokowi’s eldest son, as his running mate for the 2024 presidential race, positioning him as a vice-presidential candidate.

With these developments, it is becoming evident that Jokowi will play the role of a kingmaker in Indonesian politics in the days to come. Following Subianto, it is possible that his elder son, Gibran, will enter the presidential bid, marking the beginning of the Jokowi family’s political dynasty. It is important to note that even if one of Jokowi’s sons becomes President, they would not be the first such leader in Indonesia. In 2001, Megawati Sukarnoputri became the first woman President of Indonesia. She was the daughter of Sukarno, the first President who ruled from 1945-1967. Now, Prabowo, who is running for the presidency next year, is the former son-in-law of the late General Muhammad Suharto, the second president who ruled from 1967-1998.

Prabowo, a former general, has been accused of severe human rights abuses, including kidnapping and the sudden disappearance of many pro-democracy activists before the end of Suharto’s 32-year-long dictatorship in 1998.

However, it is ironic that Prabowo has never been charged for these crimes from the past. Even during Jokowi’s two terms as President, these charges were never addressed seriously, despite once being an archrival of the President. Now, he is poised to become Indonesia’s next president by 2024. Already, Prabowo has indicated that he will continue with Jokowi’s policies and programs, a move that makes sense as it would help him garner maximum support from Jokowi’s voter base.

At the moment, Ganjar Pranowo, the ruling party’s candidate, holds the second position. In third place is Anies Baswedan, former Jakarta Governor, who has been a vocal critic of Jokowi for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis in the country. It is worth noting that both candidates are selecting their running mates, i.e., vice-presidential candidates, from rival factions of a Muslim organisation called Nahdlatul Ulama, which boasts more than 100 million members. This organisation is active in East Java, the second largest province of Indonesia. So far, various polls suggest that no candidate will receive more than half the votes. We will have to wait and see when the polls start on February 14 next year, but it is highly likely that Prabowo will become the next President of Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Opposition parties, rights groups, and pro-democracy activists have largely criticised the verdict of the Constitutional Court. Given that the head of the Court is a relative of Jokowi, Article 17 of Indonesia’s Judicial Authority Law explicitly prohibits Constitutional Court judges from hearing or deciding any case involving their relatives or themselves. As a result, a popular weekly newspaper called Tempo is calling for the Chief Justice to be dismissed soon.

It is now evident that Jokowi has engaged in cynical deal-making, a common practice in politics, instead of addressing the vast unresolved socio-economic issues of this island nation. He is not an exception. The greed and thirst for power are ingrained in political systems worldwide. Sadly, most existing political parties and their members, whether high-ranking or not, aim to hold onto office for as long as possible. This race for power and position knows no bounds, transcending countries and continents. It is a universal truth that politicians often only retire when they pass away.

Jokowi, along with his family and extended relatives, have firmly entrenched themselves in the corridors of power in Indonesia. Despite his public statements about leaving the decision of dynasty-building to the people, the reality is different. In truth, despite the significant influence of political awareness driven by mass media and digital platforms, we still witness, in many parts of the world, the “manufacturing of consent” as once prophesied by Professor Avram Noam Chomsky, the American intellectual and pioneer of Modern Linguistics. Chomsky defined the intricate relationship between political structures and mass media. Consequently, the opinions of common voters are largely shaped by the political narratives set by the media. This easily translates into vote bank politics once a powerful leader, or someone widely identified with the public, emerges. In such cases, the majority of people are often indifferent to whether the positions of power and authority are held by a son, daughter, or any other family member.

This trend is gradually permeating Indonesian politics and society through the next generation of Jokowis. While it is undoubtedly a privilege to serve the people, as Kaesang mentioned publicly, it is crucial to remember that contributing to the development and welfare of a nation is a right that belongs to everyone, and there should be no existence of privilege like his.

At 62, Jokowi has mastered the game of dynastic politics in less than a decade, surpassing all his predecessors in skill and speed. Throughout his presidency, he often stated that becoming President “does not mean channeling power to my own children”.

However, he has revealed his true colours by elevating his two sons to positions of power, much like any other seasonal politician. His attempt to consolidate power and secure his position in the post-retirement phase is now evident. As a true democrat who rose to power through open competition from a humble background, he must recognize that hereditary politics runs counter to the growth and preservation of the ethos and norms of democracy.

(The writer is currently president of the Global Research Foundation)

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