Indonesia election: The ‘four-finger’ salute and how Jokowi spurred its spread

The 'four-finger' salute signals to voters to choose either candidate No. 1, Mr Anies Baswedan, or No. 3, Mr Ganjar Pranowo.

Hariz Baharudin

Hariz Baharudin

The Straits Times


The “four-finger” movement is the latest initiative to sideline current front-runner and candidate No. 2, Mr Prabowo Subianto. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

February 6, 2024

JAKARTA – For months, Indonesia’s three presidential contenders have been brandishing hand signs matching their election registration numbers, but now, a new “four-finger” movement has gone viral.

It signals to voters to choose either candidate No. 1, Mr Anies Baswedan, or No. 3, Mr Ganjar Pranowo.

The campaign is the latest initiative to sideline current front-runner and candidate No. 2, Mr Prabowo Subianto, who is seen as having President Joko Widodo’s backing.

Mr John Muhammad, president of the Green Party of Indonesia, started the campaign on Jan 25 with an Instagram post that stated: “Four fingers, express your choice to avoid Prabowo-Gibran”.

In less than a week, Mr John’s Instagram post has garnered over 15,000 likes. The numbers are even higher on X, where a post on the campaign by user @gitaputrid from Jan 26 has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, shared over 13,000 times and liked by some 26,000 users.

Mr Prabowo is running with Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is Mr Widodo’s elder son.

Mr Gibran’s vice-presidential candidacy has been controversial, as Indonesia’s Constitutional Court issued a special ruling in October 2023 that effectively allowed him to run despite being younger than 40, the minimum age required to contest the election. He was also accused of disrespectful behaviour during official debates and of campaign violations.

But what really got the movement going is the perception that Mr Widodo, or Jokowi as he is commonly known, is interfering in the elections in a bid to drum up support for his son’s ticket, observers told The Straits Times.

Mr Made Supriatma, an ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute visiting fellow, narrowed it down to Mr Widodo saying on Jan 24 that he could openly support and campaign for candidates participating in the Feb 14 presidential election. He said this with his would-be successor standing at his side.

The President clarified in a recorded statement two days later that he was simply replying to journalists who had asked about ministers participating in the hustings.

He stressed that his words should not be taken out of context, and held up a large piece of paper stating how the president and vice-president are allowed to participate in election campaigns, according to Indonesian law.

Critics and some netizens have accused Mr Widodo of using his position to convince people to vote for Mr Prabowo.

“The perceived injustice fuelling the emergence of the four-finger movement is rooted in the belief that Jokowi has manipulated legal interpretations to favour specific candidates,” said Mr Made.

Five days after the President’s comments on Jan 24, he was seen eating bakso (meatball soup) at a roadside stall with Mr Prabowo. They had met for dinner in Jakarta on Jan 5 as well – another meeting that was publicised.

Mr Widodo has also been reported to the Election Supervisory Body, after his wife sparked controversy for allegedly performing Prabowo-Gibran’s two-finger salute on Jan 23.

Critics also say Mr Widodo has been deploying populist programmes purportedly in support of Mr Prabowo’s presidential bid. These range from El Nino cash aid for low-income households to the first pay rise for civil servants in five years.

“The President seems to be going all out at this stage in his apparent public support for one candidate, keen to see a result in one round. We are at the last stage of the race, after all,” said Mr Edbert Gani Suryahudaya from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia.

Mr Edbert, a researcher at the centre’s department of politics and social change, was referring to how Indonesian law states that a presidential candidate needs a simple majority – or more than 50 per cent – of the votes to win.

If that does not happen, the top two candidates will enter a run-off vote in June.

Surveys in recent months indicate that none of the candidates is set to gain the required majority of over half the votes. The Prabowo-Gibran ticket, while in the lead, hovers around the mid-40 per cent mark.

Some observers believe that if Mr Prabowo does not win in the first round, the top job could go to Mr Anies or Mr Ganjar, who are expected to consolidate their votes in a second round.

Supporters of the four-finger movement mainly consist of pro-democracy activists who have been protesting against what they see as the current administration’s history of controversial policies and decisions, said Mr Beltsazar Krisetya, who is the principal researcher at CSIS’ Safer Internet Lab.

These include legal amendments in 2019 that they claim weakened the country’s anti-corruption agency and a controversial omnibus law on job creation issued in 2022.

“Therefore, protesting against the President’s actions during election periods is not an isolated movement, but rather a continuation of protests that have snowballed since the earlier days of the administration,” he said.

About the four-finger campaign, he added: “The movement started, in my opinion, a little too late for it to significantly shape the trajectory of the election.”

Associate Professor Leonard Sebastian from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies believes that the movement will not make a difference to the election’s eventual result. “Such gimmicks are only saleable to urban-based voters, especially the more educated voters,” he said.

In small towns and rural areas, Mr Widodo’s perceived interference does not elicit as much outrage. Prof Leonard said: “At the grassroots level, nobody really cares.”

Mr Edbert noted that “the initial supporters of the movement are primarily those already opposing Prabowo”, so it may not move the needle at the ballot box.

“However, it could serve the purpose of bolstering the confidence of Anies and Ganjar supporters, encouraging them to actively participate in the voting process and become integral parts of the broader movement.”

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