Comment: The idea of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo coming to power will not go away.
MELBOURNE: Ten years ago, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was an outsider candidate who entered the office of the Indonesian president with a carefully developed “everyone” persona. To get there, he had to overcome opposition from many rich and powerful figures.
However, he soon forged strong political coalitions, and he and his family were now staunch members of the oligarchic elite. Many in that elite fear that his access to political and economic power could be hampered if he leaves office.
By law, Jokowi’s term of office is limited. Indonesia’s longest-serving president, Suharto, stepped down in 1998 after 32 years in office. After his downfall, one of the constitutional priorities was to prevent a repeat of his long reign, which involved military repression and corruption.
In 1999, the constitution was amended to allow the president to serve two or more five-year terms. This was seen as a non-negotiable part of the reforms leading to Indonesia’s transition to democracy.
Presidential and legislative elections are now scheduled for February 14, 2024, and Jokowi cannot run again as he has already been elected twice.
But in practice it’s not that simple. For several years, powerful politicians, including Luhut Pandjaitan (Jokowi’s close adviser and so-called “All Minister”) have been proposing ways to keep Jokowi in the palace. These ranged from amending the Constitution to remove two term limits to “delay” elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These proposals have received little public support and have been stubbornly rejected by most civil society groups, which are important drivers of public opinion and policy-making in Indonesia.
Jokowi himself was inconsistent. At times he refused requests to remain in public office. At other times, his statements were more ambivalent. Rumors continue to abound that he was involved in a scheme to avoid losing the presidency.