Jokowi’s neutrality a ruse, critics claim

Critics claim that President Jokowi has been shadowing the campaign stops of Prabowo’s rivals in a bid to shore up support for him, although the President has denied this allegation.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (right) and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto dine at a restaurant in Central Jakarta on Jan. 5, 2024. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM @PRABOWO/ THE JAKARTA POST

January 18, 2024

JAKARTA – Prominent figures and civil society organizations are mobilizing around a perception that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his administration have acted with unacceptable partiality in the run-up to next month’s general election, as they call for accountability and, in some cases, impeachment.

With a few weeks left before voting day, critics say Jokowi is putting his thumb on the scale in favor of his son, vice presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and his former rival, presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who are running on the same ticket.

A group of top interfaith figures, including prominent Muslim cleric Quraisy Shihab and former first lady Sinta Nuriyah, widow of late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, have embarked on a mission to strengthen existing commitments to maintain the integrity of the 2024 election “for the sake of the nation’s unity”.

The group, called the National Movement of Conscience (GNB), held talks last week with Vice President Ma’ruf Amin and former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during which they expressed their hope that election organizers and members of the state apparatus would remain neutral in the upcoming election.

“Democracy is certainly not perfect, but at least that is what we have chosen as an endeavor to strengthen our diversity [and] unite the various aspirations that exist in the nation,” the group said in a statement to The Jakarta Post.

“But this process of democratization has recently been distorted; the upcoming elections have shown increasingly worrying symptoms. The slogan of ‘a fair and honest election’ is not enough, because the elections must also take place peacefully and with dignity,” it continued.

After meeting with Ma’ruf and the elder Yudhoyono last week, the group intends to meet with other state officials, including the incumbent Jokowi and election organizers, said Gus Dur’s daughter Alissa Wahid, a GNB member.

Read also: Can Jokowi be neutral?

‘Just be honest’

The initiative came together amid growing concerns about the neutrality of Jokowi and the state apparatus, after the Constitutional Court, under circumstances that were later ruled to be ethically compromised, carved out a legal exception that allowed the President’s 36-year-old son Gibran to run for vice president.

Despite his pledge of neutrality, Jokowi has become more overt about where he stands in the race, making what many analysts say are gestures of support for Gibran’s running mate Prabowo.

Jokowi hosted a private dinner with Prabowo earlier this month, two days before a much-anticipated televised debate, during which the incumbent was said to have asked his defense minister to up his strategy and boost his polling figures in a bid to win a single-round victory.

Tempo magazine, citing anonymous politicians who were familiar with the circumstances of the dinner, reported that the President was worried about the electability of the Prabowo-Gibran pair and had asked party leaders from within the pro-government coalition to campaign even harder for the candidates. Many of these parties are also members of the defense minister’s electoral alliance.

After the debate, Jokowi expressed disappointment over what he said were “personal attacks” between candidates and exchanges that “did nothing to educate” voters, comments that were construed as coming to Prabowo’s defense.

Critics also claim Jokowi has been shadowing the campaign stops of Prabowo’s rivals in a bid to shore up support for him, although the President has denied this allegation.

Titi Anggraini, a member of the supervisory board for the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), said the President should refrain from making any displays that appeared to favor or discredit any of the candidates.

“The problem is that Jokowi has continued to claim neutrality despite his obvious support [for Prabowo and Gibran],” Titi told the Post on Wednesday.

“He should just be honest and transparent with the public.”

The Presidential Palace has repeatedly rejected claims of bias.

Read also: Golkar, PAN brush off demands to impeach Jokowi

Call for impeachment

Since his son Gibran registered as a vice presidential candidate, Jokowi has faced accusations that he has been using his office and political influence to secure his son’s victory.

Allegations of nepotism and dynastic politics have dominated headlines since Gibran’s uncle and then-Constitutional Court chief justice Anwar Usman cleared a legal barrier allowing his nephew to run.

The resulting ruling was allowed to stand, although Jokowi’s brother-in-law was booted from the court’s leadership.

Last week, a group of lawyers took Jokowi and the First Family to court, accusing them of nepotism and attempts to establish a political dynasty through Gibran’s candidacy.

The so-called Defense of Indonesian Democracy Team (TPDI), linked the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the President’s one-time sponsor, filed a civil lawsuit with the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) calling for Gibran’s candidacy to be revoked.

The same group reported Jokowi, Anwar and Gibran to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) last year for collusion and nepotism in relation to the court ruling.

Some of the President’s critics have even called for his impeachment.

Prominent opposition figures Amien Rais and Faizal Assegaf, part of a group called Petisi 100, have floated the idea of “an election without the President” by proposing to impeach Jokowi.

But supporters of Prabowo and Gibran have pushed back, saying there was no talk of passing the motion at the legislature. Pro-government parties currently dominate the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the NasDem Party, the leader of a three-way alliance backing the rival Anies Baswedan-Muhamin Iskandar ticket, suggested that the impeachment proposal would be impossible to realize in such a short span of time.

Separately, the PDI-P suggested it would not support impeachment but called on the President to prove his neutrality in response to the accusations.

The Palace, meanwhile, has labeled the proposal “unproductive”. (tjs)

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