November 8, 2023
JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for unity and a more constructive “battle of ideas” as the February 2024 presidential election heats up.
“Lately, we see too many dramas, too many K-dramas, too many sinetrons,” he said, drawing laughter during the 59th anniversary celebration on Monday night of Golkar, the country’s oldest party.
Sinetrons are popular Indonesian soap operas with endless episodes of over-the-top acting, jarring background music and tragic scenes.
“(The election) should be a battle of ideas, not a battle of feelings. If it’s a battle of feelings, it will bother all of us. I don’t need to go on, because it will go nowhere,” he added.
Mr Widodo, better known as Jokowi, made the address to Golkar politicians, presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and leaders of the Onward Indonesia Coalition parties that back Mr Prabowo.
The President’s two sons – Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, vice-presidential candidate and Mr Prabowo’s running mate; and Mr Kaesang Pangarep, chair of coalition party Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) – were absent.
The two young men’s political moves have rocked the country in recent weeks, and fuelled public speculation that the President wants to retain his power after he steps down in 2024 by building a political dynasty through his sons.
Mr Gibran, the 36-year-old mayor of Solo, registered his candidacy on Oct 25. He became eligible to run in the election after a Constitutional Court ruling that lowered the minimum age for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from 40 years to 35 as long as they had been elected leaders.
Local media were also rife with reports on the purportedly worsening relations between Mr Widodo and his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), as well as his party chair Megawati Sukarnoputri, over differences in the choice of presidential candidate pairings, among other things.
Ms Megawati backs PDI-P member and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, who is running for president.
But Mr Widodo is accused of favouring Mr Prabowo over Mr Ganjar and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan. In a show of neutrality, he hosted a luncheon with all three men on Oct 30.
PDI-P secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto has expressed his disappointment that the President’s elder son Gibran, a PDI-P member, decided to run for vice-president on the ticket of the opposing Onward Indonesia Coalition parties.
“We really love and give great privileges to President Jokowi and his family, but we have been left behind,” he was quoted as saying by local media on Oct 29.
“Indonesia is a spiritual country. Morality, the value of truth, and loyalty are at the forefront… Gibran’s candidacy is actually political disobedience towards the Constitution and the Indonesian people.”
In his speech on Monday, Mr Widodo said that “competing to win is natural” as long as participants uphold “a democracy that does not vilify and slander one another”.
He downplayed the intense rivalry among his would-be successors and their supporters, likening it to a squabble in the family that will mend itself when the presidential race is over.
He said: “After this, we will be united and harmonious again. This is a competition between family members, between fellow children of the same nation who all want to advance the country.”