January 9, 2024
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s recent private dinner with presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto has added to concerns that the President is putting his thumb on the scales to help his erstwhile rival rise to the nation’s highest office.
Photos of Jokowi dining at a restaurant with the Gerindra Party chairman made headlines over the weekend.
The hour-long dinner took place on Friday at a restaurant in Central Jakarta, according to presidential special staff coordinator Ari Dwipayana.
“I don’t know what [the President] talked about [with Prabowo] at the dinner. He said the food at the restaurant was delicious,” Ari told reporters.
It was the first time Jokowi and Prabowo had appeared in public together after the retired general named Jokowi’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, his running mate.
In late October 2023, in an apparent effort to counter accusations that he was backing a particular candidate, Jokowi invited all three presidential candidates to lunch at the State Palace, where Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan said they hoped the President would maintain his neutrality as the electoral campaigns unfolded.
Neither Jokowi nor Prabowo made a public statement about their Friday dinner, but Prabowo’s campaign team sought to cast it as a demonstration of Jokowi’s support for the minister.
“Jokowi, as head of state and head of government, must remain neutral, but as an individual, he has the right to decide which candidate he supports,” Habiburokhman, Gerindra politician and deputy chairman of Prabowo’s campaign team, said on Saturday.
Opinion polls conducted in the first week of campaigning in early December 2023 place Prabowo comfortably ahead of his rivals Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, after a number Jokowi supporters came out in support of Prabowo.
In response to the Friday dinner, Jokowi’s own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), called on the President to practice what he preached, as he had ordered civil servants, the National Police and Indonesian Military (TNI) to stay neutral in the 2024 election.
“The President must set an example and be a role model to the state apparatus. The 2024 general election will determine where Indonesia will go in the future,” PDI-P ethics board chairman Komarudin Watubun said in a video statement.
Ganjar, also a PDI-P member, said the dinner had proven his suspicions right: that Jokowi was backing Prabowo.
“It would be better if it was made clear by saying, ‘Yes, I’ve taken a side’. The important thing is that there should be no abuse of authority, power, so that everyone will be able to compete fairly,” Ganjar said.
Anies, meanwhile, said he was unbothered by the dinner meeting and claimed he did not believe there were electoral motives behind the dinner or the subsequent release of the photos.
But analyst Adi Prayitno said, “The Friday event, unlike the October lunch, seemed to be sending a deliberate message to the public that Prabowo is the one and only successor of Jokowi, not Ganjar, let alone Anies.”
Jokowi also met separately with two other party leaders in Prabowo’s camp over the weekend. He had breakfast with Golkar Party chair Airlangga Hartarto on Saturday and lunch with National Awakening Party (PAN) chair Zulkifli Hasan on Sunday.
The President’s dinner with Prabowo came as the official campaign period entered its sixth week and competition on the ground deepened among the candidates vying to succeed Jokowi and their supporters.
Over the past two weeks, Ganjar’s campaign has focused on Central Java, one of the country’s most populous provinces and a traditional stronghold of the PDI-P. He has held dialogues with residents of the province, including vendors at traditional markets and farmers.
President Jokowi embarked on a concurrent working visit to parts of southern Central Java, where he met with residents and distributed social aid. Jokowi had previously toured several regions where Ganjar had made campaign stops, prompting speculation that the President was trying to shadow Ganjar to keep his base from straying to the former Central Java governor.
Ganjar’s camp recently called for the government to postpone the distribution of social assistance until the February election was over, citing concerns that the program could be misused by certain candidates.
In response to ensuing rumors that Ganjar would not continue social aid programs if elected, his campaign team said social aid was necessary but called for the program to be dissociated with Jokowi.
“Social assistance comes from people’s money, the distribution of which is approved by the House of Representatives together with the government,” said Todung Mulya Lubis of Ganjar’s campaign team.
Meanwhile, Anies, widely seen as an opposition candidate, continued his campaign last week in parts of West Java and Central Java.
He finished the week in West Sumatra, where Tanah Datar regent Eka Putra rejected a scheduled public discussion involving Anies, forcing the presidential candidate to change venues.