Stay neutral, students urge Jokowi

Time to exercise your right!: Street performers resting as they take part in a demonstration organised by various organisations and students, calling for the right choice to recover from the destruction of democracy, human rights and climate change, ahead of the election in Jakarta. — AFP

HUNDREDS of Indonesian students protested against outgoing President Joko Widodo’s perceived interference in the Feb 14 election to replace the leader of the world’s third-largest democracy, an organiser said.

Just a week out from the poll, up to 2,000 students from several universities were estimated to join a rally in the centre of the capital Jakarta yesterday, calling for Jokowi, as the popular president is known, to remain neutral in the hotly contested race.

Although he has not explicitly endorsed any candidate, Jokowi has made highly publicised appearances with frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, whose running mate is the president’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Jokowi has faced mounting allegations of ethical breaches and meddling in the election, especially after a top court tweaked eligibility rules in October, allowing Gibran to run.

“We want to make the public aware that Joko Widodo is the main actor behind the unfair election,” said student activist and protest organiser Tegar Afriansyah, adding he hoped similar protests would be held across the country.

“We are done with the president’s intervention in the 2024 election especially to help a human rights criminal win the election,” he said. He was referring to allegations of past human rights abuses made against ex-special forces commander Prabowo, who has denied them.

Jokowi sought to reassure citizens, saying he would not join any campaign events in the run-up to voting day.

“By law, the president is allowed to join any campaign. But if the question is whether or not I’ll campaign, the answer is, I will not campaign,” he said.

Students can be a formidable political force in Indonesia. Among yesterday’s protesters were activists from Jakarta’s Trisakti University, where in 1998 four students were shot dead and dozens were injured, triggering riots and national scale protests that ultimately brought down former authoritarian leader Suharto.

The rally comes after academics from dozens of universities last week held a press conference to raise concerns over Indonesia’s democratic decline and urge Jokowi and state officials to remain neutral in the run-up to the election.

Prabowo maintains a solid lead over rivals, ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and ex-Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, according to latest opinion surveys. — Reuters

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