Poll delay debate in Indonesia revived after elite spat

Presidential contender Anies Baswedan's remark that a senior Cabinet member had tried to amend the Constitution to delay the 2024 election has reignited the controversy all over again.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


A man walks past a mural on the upcoming elections in front of Pasar Anyar market in Tangerang, Banten. (Antara/Fauzan)

March 20, 2023

JAKARTA – A controversial remark made by opposition figure and presidential contender Anies Baswedan suggesting that a senior Cabinet member has been pushing to amend the Constitution to delay the 2024 election has drawn backlash from members of the majority coalition.

The former Jakarta governor said on Friday that an unnamed member of the Joko “Jokowi” Widodo administration publicly toyed with the idea of altering the Constitution to extend the President’s tenure and accused that person of a lack of commitment to the country’s decades-old reform movement.

“How come there are people in key positions, such as a coordinating minister, saying a number of people support amending the Constitution? The quality of our democracy was not deteriorating, but [now] people who are not committed to [democratic ideals] have become more courageous in expressing their thoughts openly,” Anies said.

He called on people who remained committed to democracy to voice their opposition forcefully, saying, “We will be much better in the future if we respect the rules of the game […] What we need is a fair play, equal opportunity and neutrality from those holding power,” he said.

While Anies stopped short of naming names, speculation was rife that he was referring to Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, an influential power broker within the State Palace.

Luhut was one of several government officials who floated the idea of extending Jokowi’s presidential term beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit last year. He then claimed he had “big data” analysis from 110 million Indonesian social media users that suggested  the majority of the public was in favor of delaying the election.

When asked about Anies’ comments, Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said on Friday that members of the Cabinet had been ordered to refrain from talking about such a Constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Jakarta Post.

Strong reactions

Anies’ remarks have elicited strong reactions from members of the ruling coalition, even the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), a strong opponent of the election delay proposal and the party of which Jokowi is a member. Its deputy secretary general, Sadarestu, claimed Anies was “fabricating stories” and asked him to “refrain from noisy incitement that could confuse the public”.

Melchias Marcus Mekeng, the deputy chair of Golkar, which has backed past initiatives to extend Jokowi’s presidential term, claimed Anies was “exaggerating” with his allegation and said he should “compete in a healthy manner without making unnecessary accusations”.

People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Bambang Soesatyo, who is a senior Golkar politician, responded coolly to Anies’ remarks, saying that amending the Constitution fell under the authority of the MPR.

“Amending the Constitution is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “Every proposal for revision of clauses within the Constitution must be submitted in written form and must clearly show which provisions need to be revised and why.”

NasDem, a pro-government party that has announced its support for Anies’ presidential bid, defended Anies’ comments, claiming they were not an accusation against any particular person and merely reflected his concern over recent proposals to extend the presidential term limit.

“Anies was merely expressing his concern about the state of our democracy and his stance as someone who has a commitment to upholding the Constitution,” NasDem deputy chairman Ahmad Ali told the Post.

Agung Baskoro, executive director of Trias Politika Strategis, said Anies was seeking to make his stance clear on fundamental matters, such as the question of election postponement, amid NasDem’s efforts to moderate Jokowi’s dislike of the opposition figure and paint him as someone whom Jokowi could “invest in politically”.

“Anies’ pledge to continue Jokowi’s flagship new capital city was a clear demonstration that he would not go to extreme lengths to alter Jokowi’s programs and policies. But his public objection to an election delay and a constitutional amendment also sends the message that he can still be tough against anyone, especially rivals, who tries to interfere with the rules of the game,” Agung said.

Luhut-Paloh meeting

Anies’ comments came after a Tuesday meeting between Luhut and NasDem leader Surya Paloh that drew speculation that NasDem was under significant pressure from the administration to drop its support for Anies.

The pair had met twice in February and, before that, in London in December of last year, when tensions between Surya and Jokowi flared after NasDem declared Anies its preferred presidential nominee, with the President hinting several times at another Cabinet shake-up, an idea that the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has supported.

Analyst Kevin O’Rourke wrote in the latest edition of his Reformasi Weekly newsletter that Luhut’s decision to devote three hours to sit down with a mid-sized party amid his myriad of responsibilities “attests to the strenuousness of [Luhut’s] efforts to safeguard a transition to a new administration next year – or perhaps even postpone the election”.

“The fact that the meeting persisted for so long seems to suggest that [Luhut] struggled to shift Paloh’s stance. Nonetheless, to the extent that [Luhut] can bring a wealth of inducements or threats to bear, the stance could yet waver,” he wrote.

NasDem’s Ali said he could neither confirm nor deny whether there had been efforts to sway NasDem away from its support for Anies, but he added that the meetings took place as “Jokowi had rarely met with Surya” and they served, at least for NasDem, to show that “the government should not be troubled by Anies’ nomination and it should not place Anies as someone whom it dislikes”.

“NasDem’s position is very clear. It is unlikely that NasDem will withdraw its support for Anies. That decision was made at the party’s official forum and is the party’s commitment that has been conveyed to the public,” Ali told the Post. (ahw)

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