President Jokowi begins post-election manoeuvring

Barred from reelection, President Jokowi has faced mounting accusations of state interference in the lead-up to last week’s polls.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo shows his ballot paper for the 2024 presidential election at a polling station in Central Jakarta on Feb. 14, 2024. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

February 20, 2024

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Monday that he would play the role of “bridge builder” in a post-election reconciliation effort that analysts say is an attempt to maintain a leading role in politics in the remainder of his term and beyond.

The outgoing president has said he intends to leave the process to political parties, but his actions betray a different reality after he moved to meet with opposition leader Surya Paloh of the NasDem Party after months of unspoken support for the presumptive election winner, Prabowo Subianto.

Barred from reelection, Jokowi has faced mounting accusations of state interference in the lead-up to last week’s polls, particularly with his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka running for the vice presidency following an unethical intervention led by his brother-in-law at the Constitutional Court in October.

And while the widely popular president sought to maintain his distance in the final few days before the election, his closed-door meeting with Surya on Sunday produced one of the earliest indications of political reconciliation after Prabowo’s presumptive win.

After the meeting, one NasDem executive suggested that Surya “didn’t want the country and its people to be divided by elections”, according to local reports.

The media mogul’s meeting with Jokowi, which NasDem insists was made at the invitation of the President, raised fresh speculation that the incumbent was seeking to lure parties outside of Prabowo’s coalition to join the incoming government, although the Palace disputed this. Surya and his party had backed rival presidential candidate Anies Baswedan on a campaign of change.

During a government event in Jakarta on Monday, together with Defense Minister Prabowo, Jokowi said he sought to be a “bridge” for political parties but played down the meeting with Surya.

“We don’t need to make a fuss about who invited whom. What’s important is that the meeting took place, and that it is beneficial for politics and for the country,” Jokowi told reporters.

Presidential staffer Wandy Tuturoong told The Jakarta Post on Monday that Jokowi’s meeting with Surya showed that the President was looking to “deescalate the tension” from last week’s general election and the weeks of campaigning prior to it.

“After the election is over, everyone must get along, regardless of whether they will be in the opposition or not. We need a calm political climate to answer long-term development challenges,” he said.

Need for allies

Prabowo has suggested that he would be open to governing alongside other parties outside of his electoral alliance, saying a few hours after the polls closed on Wednesday that his alliance would welcome anyone who was interested in joining “with open arms”.

Given that the four parties backing Prabowo racked up less than 50 percent of the vote in the legislative election, according to the quick count results, analyst Arya Fernandes of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said Prabowo likely understood the need to win more allies.

“This situation is certainly concerning for the incoming government, since they will not make up a majority of the House of Representatives,” Arya said.

“They will face [a different situation] compared to Jokowi’s current term, where [a majority in the House] supports his government.”

Presidential meddling?

Some experts have said Jokowi’s meeting with Surya was the outgoing president’s attempt to find as many allies as possible for Prabowo, particularly as the PDI-P, which appears to have won the greatest share of seats in the House, has expressed its intention to play an opposition role to a Prabowo administration.

Days before last week’s election, Jokowi was reportedly seeking to arrange a meeting with PDI-P matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri, one that some observers contend was intended to bring about a reconciliation between the two figures. No such meeting has yet taken place.

“The meeting with Surya could be interpreted as Jokowi’s maneuver to start consolidating political power and explore the possibility of rebuilding a majority coalition in the next House, which could help Prabowo’s administration pass bills that would continue Jokowi’s legacy programs,” said Kennedy Muslim of pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia.

Echoing Kennedy, analyst Adi Prayitno said Jokowi, through his meeting with Surya, was attempting to “welcome” political parties that appeared to have lost in last week’s election, a move reminiscent of Jokowi’s 2019 post-electoral strategy that won him his current big-tent coalition.

“Jokowi could still be the figure that brings together the interests of all parties in a post-election coalition,” Adi said. “[His meeting with Surya] could serve to strengthen the [incoming] government and allow it control over the House.”

Firman Noor of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) said, however, that NasDem and other parties would likely decide their stance vis-à-vis a Prabowo administration after the official election results were announced and any election disputes were resolved. The official results are expected by mid-March.

“There’s still a long way to go before we have a definite [president-elect],” Firman said. “But on the positive side, [Jokowi’s meeting with Surya] could convince the public that he could make peace with the kingmaker figure [behind Anies’ presidential bid].” (tjs)

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