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In the election picture of Indonesia is the son of the president. Is it a Dynasty or a Democracy? 

Critics claim that under Joko Widodo, a two-term president who was previously an outsider in politics, Indonesia’s hard-won progress towards democracy has been regressing. 

Jokowi’s Political Dynasty and the Rise of His Son

Recently, the eldest son of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo was managing a series of food and confectionery shops. Now, he stands as a symbol of an emerging political dynasty, benefitting from family politics. With the support of his uncle and a crucial High Court decision, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka has emerged as a leading candidate for the vice-presidential position. The national elections are next month. If elected, he would become Indonesia’s youngest-ever vice president. 

Indonesia’s defence minister and presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto, along with his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is the eldest son of Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Surakarta’s Mayor, gesture as they arrive to register themselves for next year’s presidential election, at the election commission headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Critics Concerned About Consolidation of Power

This development has alarmed critics who warn that President Jokowi is undermining the democratic changes adopted after decades of authoritarian rule. These critics argue that Gibran’s candidacy is a continuation of the president’s influence, who was assisted by his uncle to win the presidential seat in 2014. In February, three candidates are running for Jokowi’s successor. Notably, a former general, now Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto, has contested against Jokowi in the last two elections but is now seemingly aligning with the president’s family, positioning himself as a running mate. 

Building a Political Legacy 

A doctoral student at Jakarta’s Atma Jaya University, Yosef C. Kenawas, remarked, “It’s clear that Jokowi is constructing a political dynasty.” Kenawas believes that Jokowi aims to prepare his son for a presidential run in 2029, seeing Prabowo as a mentor for him. Jokowi himself rose from a humble background, starting as a mayor without any family political ties to eventually become the president of the world’s third-largest democracy. After winning his first term, he stated that being president doesn’t mean “handing power to your children.” 

Jokowi’s Family’s Ascent

However, after winning his second and final five-year term in 2019, members of his family began their political careers. In 2020, Gibran was elected mayor of Solo, and Muhammad Bobby Afif Nasution, Jokowi’s son-in-law, became the mayor of Medan. 

Challenges and Political Maneuvering

In September, the president’s younger son, 28-year-old Kaesang Pangarep, joined the Indonesian Solidarity Party. Two days later, he was appointed its chairman. The party is widely seen as a post-presidential vehicle for Jokowi, which could bolster his legacy by supporting leaders who advocate for modern infrastructure developments. As the party’s figurehead, Kaesang gained media attention by bringing teddy bears to official meetings, stating they were gifts from his wife. 

Changes and the Path to Power

Gibran’s candidacy for vice-president became feasible after the Constitutional Court intervened in October, allowing candidates under 40 to run for president or vice-president if they had previously been elected to office. The decisive 5-4 verdict was delivered by Chief Justice Anwar Usman, whom Jokowi had appointed and later married the president’s sister. A subsequent ethics panel removed Anwar from his position, but the ruling remains. 

Criticism and the Future of Indonesian Democracy

Critics argue that Jokowi has orchestrated these political moves, comparing them to popular Korean dramas in Indonesia. Titi Anggraini, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia, stated, “This was not a drama but calculated engineering.” Ian Wilson, a senior lecturer at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, agreed, noting Jokowi’s distinct political style while acknowledging the deep-rooted motivations behind these moves. 

FILE PHOTO: Indonesian President Joko Widodo is congratulated by the Gerindra Party Chairman Prabowo Subianto, who was his election rival, after his presidential inauguration for the second term, at the House of Representatives building in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 20, 2019. Achmad Ibrahim/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Study of Indonesian Politics by Mr. Wilson

Mr. Wilson, who has extensively studied Indonesia, portrays the strategies of President Joko as part of the democratic tendencies embraced by several Indonesian politicians. Among them is Mr. Prabowo, once aspiring to be his father-in-law’s successor, who faced a decade-long ban from entering the United States due to human rights violations. With a temperamental nature, he has spent decades trying to rebuild his image akin to a fatherly figure. Mr. Wilson remarked, “I don’t see Jokowi as a true democrat.” He perceives an unrestrained nature in both Jokowi and Prabowo. 

Judge Mr. Anwar’s Controversial Marriage

In 2020, Constitutional Court Judge Mr. Anwar married into the president’s family. After attending court in 2018, he met the president’s widow sister, both having been widowed before. Concerns arose about future conflicts of interest. Despite the controversy, Mr. Anwar remained central to decisions benefiting his nephew. The Chief of the Judicial Council, Mr. Jimli, stated, “Most public officials lack the ethical understanding that conflicting interests are wrong.” 

Judge Anwar’s Defense

Judge Anwar refuted any wrongdoing, arguing that his decisions were not based on personal interests but on facts and law. He lamented the tarnishing of his 40-year judicial career. Before the ruling, Mr. Jibran dismissed rumors of his vice-presidential candidacy, emphasizing the steep climb from mayorship. 

The Aspirations of Mr. Jibran

In a TV interview, Mr. Jibran remarked on his aspirations, acknowledging his relative inexperience and the significant leap from mayor to vice-president candidacy. While some in the city of Solo remained unswayed by his rhetoric, others saw his mayorship positively, questioning his zeal to ascend further. A 43-year-old vendor in Gedebage Market opined, “Everyone must start from the bottom to gain experience and maturity. It’s not just about a city but governing a nation.” 

Neeva’s Concerns in Jakarta

In Jakarta, 17-year-old Neeva Kayla Hamza voiced concerns about the president’s son using “special privileges” to enter the race. With rule changes favoring his candidacy, questions arose about Mr. Jibran’s potential as vice-president. She commented on their determination to pursue personal gains at any cost. 

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