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‘Mutual hostage’: A rift has widened between Jokowi and Indonesia’s ruling PDI-P but it’s peace for now, say analysts

JAKARTA: A rift between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has widened, after his eldest son decided to stand as a vice-presidential running mate for a presidential candidate not backed by the party, say analysts. 

Now, both sides are in a “mutual hostage situation”, where Mr Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, and PDI-P, which is chaired by former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, cannot engage in open hostilities because they both need each other for political mileage for now, said one analyst. 

“On the one hand, President Jokowi still needs PDI-P to maintain the stability of his government until the end of his term,” political analyst Yoes Kenawas from Atma Jaya University told CNA, adding how the president still needs its legislators’ backing to push for various programmes, with PDI-P being the biggest party in parliament.

Besides, if the government is unstable, it will hurt his reputation, which could affect his son’s chances at becoming a VP, said Mr Kenawas.

“And on the other hand, PDI-P will be very careful to attack President Jokowi because his approval rating is still very good,” said the analyst, as he pointed out how Jokowi has massive followers and loyal volunteers who will follow whatever he says or believes in.

He added that this prospect will make PDI-P hesitant to attack him openly to avoid damaging its chances at the presidential and legislative elections on Feb 14 next year.

The relationship between both sides has been deteriorating since as early as mid-2022 over their perceived differences in who to back as presidential candidate in the Feb 14 election, in part fueled by Mr Widodo’s efforts to build his own political dynasty and to protect his legacy.

The latest wedge being driven came when Defence Minister Subianto, 72, who is chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), picked Mr Widodo’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, who is also mayor of Solo in Central Java, as his VP running mate.

Jokowi, whose approval rating has been consistent since he came into office nine years ago at about 70 per cent, is barred from seeking to run again in next year’s election on Feb 14 as the constitution only allows a person to be president for two terms. 

His term will formally end on Oct 20, 2024, when a new president and vice-president will be sworn in. 

Until then, analysts believe Jokowi and PDI-P will try to maintain a cordial relationship even though it will become rockier and colder towards and after the Feb elections.

According to various polls, Mr Subianto is leading, followed by Mr Pranowo and Mr Baswedan coming in third place. 

Should the February election outcome be similar, then Jokowi and PDI–P will be competing to win over the votes of Mr Baswedan’s camp.

However, once Indonesia has a new president on October 20, 2024, Mr Kenawas believes every party will try to consolidate in their own best interests.

But speculations of their strained relationship started emerging when Mdm Soekarnoputri was absent at several state events in mid-2022. 

This came after Jokowi had hinted that he wanted popular Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, a fellow PDI-P member, to run in the upcoming 2024 election. 

However, many said Mdm Soekarnoputri then had preferred her daughter, house speaker Puan Maharani, who, according to popularity polls, was not so well-received. 

Mdm Soekarnoputri and Jokowi denied the allegations, and the relationship seemed on track when they were pictured again smiling at events. 

However, the biggest surprise came last week when the Constitutional Court, chaired by Jokowi’s brother-in-law Anwar Usman, expanded the candidacy requirements for presidential and vice presidential hopefuls to include elected officials younger than 40, the minimum age required. 

Thus, Mr Raka became eligible to run in next year’s election.

Earlier in June, Jokowi openly admitted during the national meeting of PDI-P that he has the “moral obligation” to meddle in the upcoming election to ensure a smooth transition of power.

“Regarding meddling, I have already conveyed that it is my moral obligation as president during the transitional period in 2024 so that the national leadership can run well without any ripples that could endanger the nation. 

“If there are ripples, I cannot be quiet,” he said on Jun 6.

Analysts told CNA that Mr Raka’s emergence as a VP candidate for Mr Subianto is part of efforts by Jokowi to safeguard his legacy. 

The best person to work with Mr Raka appears to be Mr Subianto, who also wants to bank on Jokowi’s popularity to finally become president. 

In the long term, Jokowi may need his own political party to protect his legacy.

Therefore, having his second son Mr Pangarep heading political party PSI is very strategic for Jokowi, noted Mr Kenawas from Atma Jaya University. 

PSI is now in Mr Subianto’s Onward Indonesia Coalition (Koalisi Indonesia Maju).

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OPTIONS AND RISKS FOR PDI-P AND JOKOWI

Analysts say there are options for PDI-P to take against Jokowi, and vice versa, though both sides will have to weigh the benefits against the risks.

One is to sack Mr Raka from the party, though analysts are split on whether PDI-P would do so.

After Mr Raka decided to run with Mr Subianto, many wanted to know whether he was still a PDI-P member.

When asked by CNA on Wednesday (Oct 25) whether he was still a member of PDI-P, Mr Raka played coy.

“I met and spoke with Mdm Puan on Friday (Oct 20),” said Mr Raka, who did not answer when asked what the meeting was about nor when pressed about his membership with the party.

However, political analyst Mr Mas’udi said the situation is unlikely to continue like this, especially because PDI-P is known to dislike people who disobey Mdm Soekarnoputri. 

“I think whether Mr Raka leaves PDI-P or not, cadres who are not in line with the party’s moves will be out. 

“So he cannot hold on to PDI-P. If he stays, and PDI-P accepts that, then this all is just a political scenario (for PDI-P to grip power),” he said. 

Political analyst Ray Rangkuti from Jakarta-based think tank Lingkar Madani has a different opinion and thinks that PDI-P “will play it cool”.

“They will act normal and not target Gibran because they will appear emotional.

“The cards are now in his hands. The uncertainty of this (PDI-P) membership status will make him appear indecisive,” he said, adding that it may affect his electability. 

However, once Indonesia has a new president on October 20, 2024, Mr Kenawas believes everyone will try to consolidate in their best interests. 

For now, Mr Kenawas from Atma Jaya University said a lot more criticism can be expected from PDI-P against the current government’s agenda until the election in February. 

“It won’t destabilise the government, but there will be much criticism towards its plans,” he told CNA.

Mr Mas’udi from Gajah Mada University thinks PDI-P will ignore Jokowi’s opinions and not involve him in decision-making processes.

“This is very likely if the relationship is so strained and they cannot reconcile.” 

While Jokowi seems to have the upper hand and planned his moves well so far, he would be wise not to take Mdm Soekarnoputri and her PDI-P lightly too, said Mr Kenawas.

“After all, everything can still turn around. Jokowi can be considered a traitor, which could hurt him because all the narratives are evolving,” he added.

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