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Commentary: His son's election run could tarnish Jokowi’s legacy

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings, better even than India’s popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In recent months, Mr Jokowi has achieved as high as 81 per cent, an extraordinary figure given he first took office as president in October 2014.

Now entering his final full year, and by law unable to seek a third five-year term, Mr Jokowi’s legacy could be his signature policies such as ensuing resources are processed in the country with “value-added projects”, a US$34 billion new national capital, and laying the groundwork to make Indonesia a high-income economy by 2045, the country’s golden centennial.

But his good standing could be undone by controversy linked to his family and allegations of seeking to create a dynasty. That enviable legacy could well be tainted.


Events in the past 10 days have seen charges of collusion, conflict of interest, disloyalty and nepotism. They relate to a move that could see his son become vice president following the election next year. This carries the potential to blemish Mr Jokowi’s public service record and deflate that erstwhile commanding approval rating.


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On Oct 16, by a 5-to-4 count, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a petition that enables an elected public official to stand for president or vice president even if the candidate has not reached the minimum age of 40 as required by the 2017 election law.

This opened the door for the elder of Mr Jokowi’s two sons, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, presently the mayor of Surakarta in Central Java, to run for higher office. Mr Jokowi was himself once mayor of Surakarta, the family’s hometown.

Yet jumping through this legal loophole could taint Mr Jokowi’s legacy. The controversy here is that Constitutional Court Chief Justice Anwar Usman is also the president’s brother-in-law, married to Jokowi’s younger sister, Idayati. He did not recuse himself from the ruling process, ignoring an established convention that justices do not participate in a case that can involve a family member.

On Sunday night (Oct 22), Mr Jokowi’s former rival turned Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto declared Mr Raka as his vice-presidential running mate in his bid for the presidency.


These events sparked a string of reactions that mark displeasure with Mr Jokowi and family. Prominent media outlet Kompas had already conducted a survey following the court ruling but ahead of Mr Raka’s vice-presidential nomination in which almost two-thirds of the respondents believed the move amounted to dynasty building.


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On Monday, the Constitutional Court established a probe into the Oct 16 decision following seven petitions demanding an investigation. This will be conducted by an ethics council, consisting of a court justice and two outside legal authorities, which may not overturn the ruling but it could recommend dismissal of any justice for unethical behaviour.

On the same day, a civil society group TPDI reported Mr Jokowi, Mr Anwar Usman, Mr Raka, and Jokowi’s second son, Mr Kaesang Pangarep, to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for alleged collusion and nepotism in the Constitutional Court’s Oct 16 ruling. Mr Pangarep, 27, chairs the Solidarity Party of Indonesia that engages young people, and the party has endorsed the Subianto-Raka ticket, making it a nine-party coalition.

Asked about the complaint against him, Mr Raka simply replied, “Let the KPK follow it up.”

But the apparent nonchalance could mask trouble for Mr Raka. His party, PDI-P, gave him the platform to become a city mayor. Mr Subianto, meantime, heads his own party, Gerindra. It is far from clear whether PDI-P and its influential chief in former president Megawati Sukarnoputri will be keen for any relationship – or whether Mr Raka will be regarded as disloyal.

On Thursday evening, a PDI-P official said Mr Raka’s membership “in de facto terms” ended with his registration as a candidate for another party. This could potentially split support for PDI-P’s own presidential hopeful, former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo.

There is a strong “ProJo” (pro-Jokowi) body of supporters that campaigned for Jokowi in 2014 and 2019 and have since vocally supported Mr Subianto. The third presidential candidate trailing behind Mr Subianto and Mr Pranowo in polling is past Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.


Setting aside questions of nepotism or disloyalty, the electoral question is whether Mr Raka is an asset or liability for Mr Subianto. Mr Subianto, the former army lieutenant general and special forces commander during Suharto’s New Order years, has already lost two elections against Mr Jokowi.

Mr Subianto clearly sees Mr Raka as an asset. In speeches, Mr Subianto has declared Indonesia’s future is in its young people. He sees in Mr Raka an opportunity to garner the millennial and Generation Z voters that make up half if not more of the country’s 204.8 million registered voters who will go to the polling stations on Feb 14, 2024. (Indeed, he has won support in younger generations himself.)

Of course, Mr Subianto will also hope to secure the support of Mr Raka’s father, given Mr Jokowi’s magnetic approval rating, and he regularly sings the praises of Mr Jokowi’s achievements.

But Mr Raka may also prove a liability should younger voters decide he has lost trustworthiness and credibility after abandoning his party for another. He also has limited leadership experience. Former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, a stalwart PDI-P cadre, has said Mr Raka should have a track record at the local level before running for national office.

A reputation, as is said, is hard won, but quickly lost. The risks to the family name are great.

Warief Djajanto Basorie is a former reporter and correspondent who has worked for Indonesian and Philippines news outlets. This commentary first appeared on The Lowy Institute’s blog, The Interpreter.

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