Jokowi's admission of meddling in presidential polls divides public


President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, joined by Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Panjaitan (left) and First Lady Iriana, speaks in a press briefing on the tarmac of the Halim Perdanakusumah Air Base in Jakarta on May 19, 2023 - The Jakarta Post/Presidential Secretariat

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): President 'Jokowi' Widodo has defended himself against recent criticism over his meddling in the hunt for his successor, admitting to media leaders in a closed-door meeting on Monday (May 29) that he had been actively interfering in the upcoming elections out of the nation’s best interests.

But his admission has divided opinion across the entire political spectrum, with one side slamming the President for his defiant lack of neutrality, while the other side jumping to his defence by insisting it was well within his rights to do so.

Having hosted private meetings with political party leaders and appearing on public outings with several presumptive presidential nominees (while ignoring others), Jokowi has in recent weeks faced a flurry of accusations that he was cawe-cawe (Javanese for meddling) too much in the 2024 elections.

Among Jokowi’s detractors is his own former vice president Jusuf Kalla, who disapproved of his actions and criticised him for not inviting NasDem Party chairman Surya Paloh, now a backer of Jokowi’s least favoured presidential hopeful Anies Baswedan, to a meeting among political bigwigs earlier this month.

Kalla also urged Jokowi to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by steering clear of influencing electoral politics and allowing the elections to be freely held.

On past occasions, Jokowi has denied allegations that he was meddling, including saying that he had not broken any laws over his invitation to party leaders for discussions.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), of which Jokowi is a member, has defended the President’s actions, saying that past presidents had also played the same kind of game.

However, speaking candidly to national media leaders in a closed-door meeting, Jokowi admitted that he felt he had to insert himself in the process leading up to the presidential election, albeit without involving any state apparatus.

He claimed to have taken such measures to ensure a smooth transition for when the time came for him to step down, according to participants of Monday’s meeting. Bey Machmudin, the Presidential Secretariat’s protocol and press affairs deputy, later clarified that while Jokowi had intervened in the electoral process to ensure it ran safely “without polarising [sentiment] or sowing social conflict”, he would ultimately respect any outcome of the race.

“The President also wants assurances that the nation’s future leaders would oversee and continue any strategic policies in the future,” Bey said in a statement on Monday.

After Jokowi’s admission, Kalla seemed to have softened his stance, saying on Tuesday that he would support Jokowi’s intervention if it was meant to safeguard the elections.

“Since the press has pointed out that being cawe-cawe is about safeguarding democracy and ensuring an honest and fair election, then that is a very good thing. We certainly hope [the elections] are properly carried out,” he was quoted by kompas.com as saying.

Kalla, who is known to have backed opposition figurehead Anies to run for the presidency, was not the only one to protest the President, and not necessarily the loudest. The opposition Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), also backers of nonparty politician Anies, were quick to slam Jokowi’s admission, urging him to stay in his lane and maintain neutrality ahead of next year’s ballot.

“If the head of state rationalises [interference] for the good of the nation, then what is there to stop the police chief or the chief justices of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court to do the same? Do we want that to happen?” said Democrat deputy chairman Benny K. Harman, as quoted by kompas.com on Tuesday.

Separately, PKS spokesperson Muhammad Iqbal pointed out that a president’s responsibility was to embody statesmanship and support all presumptive presidential candidates without exception, tribunnews.com reported.

Both politicians hinted at several growing concerns with Jokowi’s presidency. On the one hand, observers see the President as keeping his hands clean while letting state apparatuses do the dirty work, while others point to the President’s contempt toward Anies, an ex-Cabinet minister who Jokowi himself appointed.

Meanwhile, pro-government parties Golkar and Gerindra have come to Jokowi’s defence.

“It’s not a problem. Everyone has to get involved – especially the President, since he has served for two terms,” Golkar deputy chairman Ahmad Doli Kurnia said on Tuesday, as quoted by kompas.com. Gerindra deputy chairman Habiburokhman said that Jokowi was “in the right” to be concerned about Indonesia’s future, and that any prevailing regulations would stop Jokowi from overstepping his authority. I

t has not been clearly stated exactly what dangers may lurk if Jokowi does not safeguard the elections, but public discourse seems to suggest that a majority of people preferred that the President maintained neutrality anyway.

A recent survey by Kompas daily’s research arm, which polled some 506 respondents from May 9-11, found that 90.3 per cent of respondents felt that it was important for Jokowi to stay neutral.

However, respondents were also split over whether or not Jokowi could be said to have stayed in his lane, with 50.5 per cent saying he acted with neutrality, against the 46.4 per cent who said he acted without preference.

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