Jokowi, PDI-P grow further apart ahead of election

Presidential staff coordinator Ari Dwipayana said that Jokowi would not be able to attend the PDI-P anniversary because of a schedule conflict with his ASEAN tour, which “had been planned months ago”.

Nina A. Loasana

Nina A. Loasana

The Jakarta Post


January 11, 2024

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s absence at an anniversary celebration for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) on Wednesday could be the latest proof that the incumbent and his main political sponsor have grown even further apart, just shy of a month ahead of the election that will see the two sides support competing factions in the race.

Jokowi left Jakarta a day before the anniversary event for a series of visits to Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines until Sunday, saying he “had not yet been invited” to the PDI-P’s 51st anniversary celebration.

Since Jokowi became president in 2014, he has always attended the PDI-P anniversary celebrations and given opening remarks, including in 2021 and 2022 when the annual event was held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past decade, almost every time the party celebrated its establishment, Jokowi was the first person to whom PDI-P matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri offered the first slice of tumpeng (cone-shaped rice dish), an Indonesian tradition that often symbolizes respecting the oldest or most distinguished attendee.

Conflicting schedules

Presidential staff coordinator Ari Dwipayana said that Jokowi would not be able to attend the PDI-P anniversary because of a schedule conflict with his ASEAN tour, which “had been planned months ago”, in an apparent effort to counter speculations that the President was intentionally avoiding attending the event.

Ari also confirmed that the President had not received any invitation from the PDI-P by Tuesday.

The party did not invite Jokowi to the anniversary event because it had received information that the President would be on “an important overseas trip”, said secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto.

He said that the President was welcome if he wanted to send anniversary wishes, signaling that Jokowi’s absence would not be a problem.

Hasto said the party only invited 51 guests to the main event at the PDI-P’s leadership school in Lenteng Agung, South Jakarta, during which Megawati will give her speech. All party members across the country will be able to watch the livestream.

Rocky relationship

Jokowi’s estranged relationship with the PDI-P stems from a long-standing conflict between the President and Megawati.

Their rocky relationship goes back to the early days of Jokowi’s presidency, with Megawati actively seeking to create and enforce the idea that Jokowi has been performing the role of president as a “party official” to maintain control over the nation’s largest party.

Over the years, however, Jokowi made efforts to consolidate power by forming alliances with other top political figures, including his former rival Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra Party, who joined Jokowi’s cabinet as the defense minister after losing the 2019 election.

The President has also managed to maintain his network of “volunteer” groups and thousands of diehard supporters throughout his presidency, further strengthening his position vis-à-vis the PDI-P establishment.

The power struggle between the two deepened in the past year, with each actively seeking to influence the presidential race and seemingly at odds over strategies for the February general election.

During the PDI-P’s 50th anniversary celebration last year, Megawati reminded Jokowi that he would not have made it to where he was without her support.

Relations between the PDI-P and Jokowi reached a nadir late last year when the President allowed his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to run as the vice presidential candidate to frontrunner Prabowo on Gerindra’s ticket.

Gibran eventually resigned from the PDI-P, shortly after the party sacked Jokowi’s son-in-law, Medan mayor Bobby Nasution, for openly endorsing Prabowo and Gibran in the upcoming presidential election.

Jokowi himself never openly stated his support for Prabowo and officially remains a PDI-P member although party politicians have openly said that the President has “left the party behind” and accused him of using state resources to disrupt the presidential campaign of PDI-P candidate Ganjar Pranowo.

But after their popularity took a dip in early December, the PDI-P, and Ganjar, changed their tune on their tough rhetoric against Jokowi, who has managed to maintain a high approval rating.

Yet, over the weekend, tension between the PDI-P and Jokowi once again intensified after Jokowi hosted a private dinner with Prabowo on the eve of the third election debate – during which, according to Jokowi, they discussed the government and the presidential election.

Ganjar said the dinner was a clear sign of Jokowi’s support of the defense minister, adding that the President should “openly declare his partisanship stance” in the coming election.

News about the dinner further stoked ongoing concerns, mainly among civil groups and the camp of the other election contender Anies Baswedan, of the President’s partisanship and his perceived stake in the race to choose his successor.

Severing ties?

Analyst Ujang Komarudin said that Jokowi’s absence at the PDI-P anniversary celebration was an obvious indication that the President was trying to sever ties and distance himself from the party.

“It’s very clear that the PDI-P and Jokowi have parted ways. But it seems that the PDI-P will not fire Jokowi and the President will not quit the party as well, at least not before the election,” he said on Tuesday.

Ari from the Presidential Palace said that Jokowi maintained “very good communications” with Megawati and all political figureheads, expressing hopes that the country’s political situation would remain “healthy” and “free of tension” ahead of the election.

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