Jokowi’s volunteer rally riles party elites

Through a mass gathering of tens of thousands over the weekend, the President signalled that he still commands a sizable following.

Fikri Harish

Fikri Harish

The Jakarta Post


President Joko “Jokowi“ Widodo waves to his supporters during a mass rally at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium on Saturday.( Purnomo)

November 30, 2022

JAKARTA – Through a mass gathering of tens of thousands of his loyal supporters over the weekend, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signaled to party elites that while his days in office might be numbered, the President still commands a sizable following and is seeking to influence the 2024 election to preserve his legacy, analysts say.

Political parties, however, have responded coolly to the President’s playing to his gallery, saying that his volunteer groups are only using him.

Saturday’s gathering, which was organized by Jokowi’s volunteer group called Gerakan Nusantara Bersatu (United Nusantara Movement) and attended by thousands of supporters, drew swift criticism from various political parties, including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), of which the President is a member.

“President Jokowi has accomplished a lot, we shouldn’t let certain groups damage his reputation through this political maneuvering”, said Hasto Kristiyanto in a written statement. While the PDI-P’s secretary-general praised Jokowi’s accomplishments, he warned against bad influence from the higher-ranking members of Jokowi’s volunteer group as well as the President’s inner circle.

Two of the President’s allies, Aminuddin Ma’ruf and Arsyad Rasyid, are said to be the main organizers of Saturday’s rally. Aminuddin, a former chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Students Movement (PMII), is on the President’s expert staff, while Arsyad is a businessman now chairing the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN).


Political muscle-flexing

While the PDI-P was especially careful in pointing the blame at anyone but Jokowi, Bawono Kumoro of Indikator Politik believed that they were actually fuming at what the political analyst sees as Jokowi’s display of his political firepower.

“Jokowi wants to send a message to the PDI-P that even if internally, he holds little power, he still has the capacity to mobilize his loyal supporters,” he said.

Unlike his two predecessors, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and Megawati Soekarnoputri, who command great authority in their respective parties, Jokowi is widely regarded as a “party official”, and therefore has little influence on PDI-P decision-making processes.

While SBY did not assume the position of Democratic Party chairman until 2014, which he held until 2020, the party essentially served as the vehicle for his political career. Meanwhile, Megawati has consistently led PDI-P as its chairwoman since the party’s founding in 1999 until now.

In the party’s national meeting in June, Megawati cautioned PDI-P members against engaging in political maneuvering of their own ahead of the 2024 elections, a warning that the party has followed up on several occasions by sanctioning several members that voiced their support for Puan Maharani and Ganjar Pranowo, two prospective candidates from the PDI-P.

The political rally at Gelora Bung Karno stadium has further exposed the power struggle within the ruling coalition, particularly between the President and his closest allies and the PDI-P, the largest pro-government party. Jokowi’s attempt to influence the outcome of the 2024 elections by endorsing certain candidates contravenes his party’s consensus that only Megawati as party leader has the final say on any presidential nomination.

The PDI-P, however, appears set for a showdown with Jokowi’s army of supporters, with Hasto saying in August that the party would not mind losing grassroots support if Jokowi and the PDI-P were to go their separate ways.

“We can’t have a president who was elected only because of the support of a few people or political parties […] let alone the support of those who are not part of political parties when we in fact need support from the House of Representatives in running the government,” Hasto told reporters in August.


All hands on deck

Political analyst Adi Prayitno of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University argued that Saturday’s event signaled Jokowi’s intention of becoming a kingmaker for 2024. “The only forum where Jokowi can speak freely about the 2024 general elections is in front of his volunteer groups, as he’s not party chairman”, said Adi.

The decision to speak in front of his volunteers, Adi added, also served as a reminder to everyone, not just the PDI-P, that Jokowi was still in close contact with his grassroots supporters, who helped Jokowi’s rise to power through his Jakarta gubernatorial victory in 2012, and also in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections.

In a leaked video that went viral on the internet, one of Jokowi’s die-hard supporters was seen advising the President to get tough with his political opponents who have attacked him through “law enforcement”. “If not, then we who have lost our patience will fight against them,” said a man, who was later identified as the head of the Agency for the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers, Benny Ramdhani.

Responding to Saturday’s pro-Jokowi rally, Democratic Party Herzaky Mahendra criticized Jokowi for meddling with the elections instead of focusing on his presidential duties. “My advice is that the President should instead focus on solving the country’s problems during his remaining two years,” he said as quoted by Kompas.

He further admonished the President for hinting at endorsing certain candidates for 2024 and holding a political mass gathering while the Cianjur earthquake victims were still suffering.

In his speech, Jokowi encouraged his supporters to vote for candidates whose hair had turned gray from caring too much for the people, with many seeing this as a nod to Ganjar.

As a two-term president, Bawono said that Jokowi wanted to see a continuation of his legacy, especially the ongoing Nusantara capital city project. “This is why he feels the need to take part in deciding his successor,” said Bawono. (ahw)

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