Indonesian President Joko Widodo is expanding his family dynasty, son by son. The announcement that his eldest child Gibran Rakabuming Raka has been picked as Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto’s running mate in next year’s presidential election is just the latest in a series of political maneuvers that have cemented his image as a Javanese kingmaker. It will also allow him to pull the strings behind the scenes long after he relinquishes power.
Gibran has not confirmed whether he will accept the nomination yet, but Prabowo registered his candidacy on Wednesday. This is deeply disappointing for the nation’s nascent democracy, the world’s third largest, and many Indonesians had hoped it would not happen.
To understand what a huge departure this is from the man he used to be, it is worth reflecting on how much Jokowi, as he is known, has changed during the course of his presidency. I first met him more than a decade ago, when he was governor of Jakarta. At the time, chatting to him in a leafy green park in his white crisp linen shirt and sandals, I was struck by his sincerity and disruptor mentality. As an outsider, he could see the obvious issues that needed to be fixed within the political establishment and there appeared to be a genuine desire on his part to change things.
However, that optimism and enthusiasm were pushed aside for the practicalities of doing politics in Indonesia. This included the weakening of the anti-corruption agency, and a drift toward authoritarian politics. Millions of people elected him as the leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation in 2014, believing he would be different from the cast of characters in the Suharto-era. Jokowi’s victory was rightly heralded as a milestone, a coming of age for the country’s democracy — a sign that if a furniture maker from Solo could beat the odds, as one voter told me at the time, any outsider could do the same.
How things have changed. If you want to do well in politics in Indonesia, it certainly helps to be related to Jokowi. Take a look at the family tree. Not only is 36-year-old Gibran campaigning for the vice presidential spot, in 2020 he was elected mayor of his home city of Solo. The young politician won by a landslide in large part thanks to Jokowi’s popularity and social capital. Then there is younger son, 28-year-old Kaesang Pangarep, better known for his YouTuber appeal than his political experience, who last month became chief of the Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI), catering to younger voters. And finally, son-in-law Bobby Nasution, voted in as mayor of Medan in 2020. His campaign drew heavily on family connections, building a perception that he would get special attention from the central government because of his privileged position.
Jokowi has batted away any suggestion that his family benefits because he is the head of state. If Indonesians want to vote them in, he told me in this interview in 2020, I can not stop them. It is the public’s decision.
However, even the charismatic leader, with his consistently solid approval ratings, will not be immune to the public’s displeasure with what appears to be dynastic politics re-emerging in the archipelago.
“A vote for Gibran as vice president will ensure that Jokowi will be able to continue having behind-the-scenes influence during the Prabowo administration,” Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore senior fellow Alexander Arifianto told me. “Political dynasties in Indonesia are not unusual, but not particularly effective. They also invite public backlash once declared openly.”
That backlash is already beginning. Last week’s ruling by the constitutional court to lower the minimum age for presidential and vice presidential candidates with legislative or regional leadership experience, was widely viewed as a way to clear legal obstacles for Jokowi’s son’s vice presidential bid. The response has been largely negative, partly due to the fact that presiding over the proceedings was Chief Justice Anwar Usman — the Indonesian leader’s brother-in-law.
The transformation of Jokowi the man of the people, to Jokowi the pragmatic politician and now potential dynasty-builder has been slow and gradual. Like many other Asian leaders, his priority has been economic development and infrastructure reform rather than a focus on fixing democratic institutions, often at the expense of weakening them. If his economic ambitions collided with anti-corruption agendas, he prioritized the former, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute visiting fellow Burhanuddin Muhtadi said.
Zeroing in on development is straight out of dictator and former president Suharto’s playbook. A fellow Javanese, he ruled Indonesia for more than three decades and died in 2008. He left behind six children who, at one point, were among the wealthiest people in the country, with extensive business interests granted by their father when he was in power. Now it is Suharto’s former son-in-law, Prabowo, who is tying up with Jokowi’s son to lead the country next year. None of this will be lost on Indonesians. They have seen this movie before and will be wondering whether keeping it all in the family is what is best for their future.
Karishma Vaswani is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asia politics with a special focus on China. Previously, she was the BBC’s lead Asia presenter and worked for the BBC across Asia and South Asia for two decades. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has a good reason to avoid a split vote against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in next month’s presidential election. It has been here before and last time things did not go well. Taiwan had its second direct presidential election in 2000 and the nation’s first ever transition of political power, with the KMT in opposition for the first time. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was ushered in with less than 40 percent of the vote, only marginally ahead of James Soong (宋楚瑜), the candidate of the then-newly formed People First Party (PFP), who got almost 37
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) has called on his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) counterpart, William Lai (賴清德), to abandon his party’s Taiwanese independence platform. Hou’s remarks follow an article published in the Nov. 30 issue of Foreign Affairs by three US-China relations academics: Bonnie Glaser, Jessica Chen Weiss and Thomas Christensen. They suggested that the US emphasize opposition to any unilateral changes in the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait, and that if Lai wins the election, he should consider freezing the Taiwanese independence clause. The concept of de jure independence was first
Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Thursday reiterated that he is “deep-green at heart” and that he would mostly continue President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) national defense and foreign policies if elected. However, he was still seriously considering forming a “blue-white” electoral alliance with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) less than a month ago, telling students he “hates the KMT, but loathes the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) even more,” while constantly criticizing Tsai’s foreign policy these past few years. Many critics have said that Ko’s latest remarks were aimed at attracting green-leaning swing voters, as recent polls
Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor and India’s Ministry of External Affairs have confirmed that the two countries plan to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this month on recruiting Indians to work in Taiwan. While this marks another step in deepening ties between the two nations, it has also stirred debate, as misunderstandings and disinformation about the plan abound. Taiwan is grappling with a shortage of workers due to a low birthrate and a society that is projected to turn super-aged by 2025. Official statistics show that Taiwan has a labor shortfall of at least 60,000 to 80,000, which is expected