But now, constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, Widodo – widely known as Jokowi – appears ready to give up on Indonesia’s future, scientists say political, watchdog groups and a growing number of the president’s old friends and supporters.
Critics say Widodo has been overindulging ahead of the February 14 election instead, trying to sway the competition for Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who has been a close friend They accuse Widodo of making a court decision that cleared the way for his son to be Prabowo’s vice-presidential candidate. And they say that Widodo has been campaigning for Prabowo, even though leaders in Indonesia are not legally allowed to campaign.
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In addition, municipal officials have reportedly been pressured to support Prabowo in exchange for resources from the Widodo administration, according to election watchdog Perludem. The campaign teams of the other two presidential candidates – former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan – say their volunteers and supporters have been harassed by security forces and refrained from conducting campaign activities. The military and police have denied these allegations.
“The situation is indeed unfair,” candidate Ganjar said in an interview. “We’re ready for it to continue to be unfair.”
Rawanda Wandy Tuturoong, who was tapped by the president’s office to answer questions and is the deputy chief of staff, said Widodo “wants his legacy to continue.” Widodo relies on “his strengths, his capital” to achieve this and has not broken any laws, Tuturoong said.
Widodo’s defenders say he should be allowed to go to great lengths to protect his legacy, which includes efforts to establish an electric car manufacturing supply chain in Indonesia and an ambitious multi- billion dollars to build a new capital to replace Jakarta.
“Ten years of [Widodo] has been great,” said Budi Arie Setiadi, head of Projo, a group of 7 million pro-Widodo volunteers who are now supporting Prabowo. “We must continue.”
Polls show Prabowo, a former general with a history of human rights abuses, leading the other candidates by 20 points, although he is not guaranteed to get the 51 percent of the vote he needs to avoid overflow. Widodo – who has a high approval rating of 80 percent – will have a decision-making role, analysts say. The president has made more public appearances with Prabowo before the vote and recently said, with Prabowo by his side, that presidents have the right to campaign on behalf of others, prompting complaints to the electoral management board Indonesia.
His capture of Prabowo has divided Indonesia’s political elite. It has also raised fears that democracy may be under threat in one of Asia’s few remaining democratic hotspots.
“What we are seeing is a very strong attack on democratic norms and institutions,” said Made Supriatma, a visitor at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute based in Singapore. He said that he believes that this election constitutes the most unfair election in Indonesia since the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998. Usman Hamid, head of Amnesty International Indonesia, agreed. Goenawan Mohamad, founder of the investigative news magazine Tempo and one of Indonesia’s most prominent public intellectuals.
Mohamad supported Widodo in 2014 and 2019, and said he believed until recently that Widodo was the best president in the country. “Suddenly, at the end,” said Mohamad, 82, “things have gone wrong.”
Born in a riverside slum, Widodo, 62, worked as a furniture maker before becoming mayor of the Javanese city of Solo and then governor of the Jakarta region. He was known for his down-to-earth leadership style, often turning up unannounced at markets and mosques to talk to people about everyday issues such as the price of rice.
In 2014, he revolutionized Indonesian politics by defeating Prabowo, an establishment figure, in the presidential election. Dressed in traditional Indonesian batik, Widodo was photographed this year for the cover of Time magazine, which called him a “force for democracy.”
Widodo promised reform. But over his two terms, he has not delivered many accounts, say civil society groups. Despite campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, Widodo weakened the powers of the country’s corruption investigation board. He rolled back environmental and labor protections in a job creation bill, and abandoned an old friend, a Christian Chinese ruler who has been persecuted by Islamic hardliners, rights activists say.
Tuturoong, the deputy chief of staff, said Widodo had to compromise on his original campaign promises to “build an effective government.”
In his second term, struggling to consolidate power among rogue parties, Widodo brought oligarchs, former generals and religious conservatives into his cabinet. Prabowo, whom he had once rejected, was appointed defense minister. Adding Prabowo to the cabinet, Tuturoong said, was part of an effort to bridge political divides in the face of challenges such as the covid-19 pandemic.
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Prabowo, 72, was a high-ranking commander in the Suharto era and was once married to the dictator’s daughter. Prabowo has long been accused by international human rights groups and foreign governments of gross human rights abuses under Suharto, alleging that he ordered the kidnapping of student activists. and that he directed the torture and murder of independence fighters in East Timor and elsewhere.
Prabowo was dishonorably discharged from the army in 1998 but was never charged with a crime. He was trying to stage a political comeback, but after losing the 2014 and 2019 elections to Widodo, he was widely expected to retire from politics. So when Widodo invited Prabowo into his cabinet, he almost single-handedly resurrected” Prabowo’s political career, said Supriatma, from ISEAS.
Although Prabowo was banned for decades from entering the United States because of his alleged involvement in terrorism, he was allowed to visit Washington in 2020 as defense minister. Two years later, he was the first to announce his presidential bid and, in a surprising twist, established himself as Widodo’s successor.
“I really believe that we have to follow everything [Widodo] did that,” Prabowo said on a recent afternoon to many Jakarta supporters. “I will continue with all his programs. I say that firmly.”
Until a few months ago, Widodo was expected to support Ganjar, the candidate fielded by his own party, the Indian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). But a major disagreement has fueled a shift between the president and the PDI-P.
Last April, when protests erupted in Muslim-majority Indonesia over whether to allow Israel to participate in a soccer tournament, Widodo publicly agreed with PDI-P leaders to was on the side of the activists. The demonstrations led FIFA to strip Indonesia of its right to host the U-20 Men’s World Cup, a development Widodo called “sad and disappointing”.
Then in October, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court voted 5-4 to allow candidates younger than 40 to run for president or vice-president if they had previously been elected to office – sculpture out largely seen as a benefit to Widodo’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, a 36. – year old mayor. Widodo’s brother-in-law, Chief Justice Anwar Usman, cast the deciding vote. Within days of the decision, Prabowo named Widodo’s son as his running mate.
Widodo says he had nothing to do with the court’s decision, while Usman has denied any wrongdoing, saying only that he acted according to his “conscience”. But an ethics panel found Usman guilty of “serious violations” and removed him from his post as chief justice. The judgment of the court was allowed to stand.
The PDI-P responded by accusing Widodo of “abandoning” the party. Political scientists said this is one of the most obvious attempts at dynasty building in modern Indonesia. Some of Widodo’s most prominent supporters quit positions in the administration, citing their opposition to legal action.
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But Budiman Sudjatmiko, a prominent member of the PDI-P who has refused to support Prabowo, said, “The most important thing for us now is to continue.” Continuation, he said, of Widodo’s victory.