JAKARTA – Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo on Sunday denied that his administration was attempting to delay the 2024 presidential elections after senior politicians including his close ally supported the idea of extending his stay in office beyond the two-term legal mandate.
His statement came a day before students planned to stage a massive protest in the capital, Jakarta, and several other cities to oppose the alleged plan they say could threaten democracy. Student protests in Indonesia often turn violent.
During a Cabinet meeting to discuss the preparations for the 2024 elections, Widodo ordered his ministers to publicly explain that all stages and schedules for the polls had been determined.
“This needs to be explained so that there are no rumors circulating among people that the government is trying to postpone the election or speculation about the extension of the president’s tenure or a related third term,” Widodo said in comments released by his office on its official YouTube channel. “Because clearly we have agreed that the election will be held on February 14, 2024.”
Powerful figures including Cabinet ministers Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and Airlangga Hartarto, who is also the chair of the Golkar party in the ruling coalition, have suggested that the elections should be deferred.
Pandjaitan, who is Widodo’s close ally, recently claimed that data shows 110 million Indonesians support a delay of elections. It wasn't clear what data he was citing.
Recent reports by Kompas, Indonesia’s reputable pollster, indicate Widodo is hugely popular in the archipelago nation of more than 270 million people with over 70% public trust rating. However, a poll by the Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed that more than 70% reject any plan to extend his stay in office.
The two-term presidential limit was a centerpiece of the first amendment to the Indonesian Constitution in 1999, a year after dictator Suharto was toppled by massive pro-democracy protests.
Suharto ruled Indonesia for more than three decades through an authoritarian, often violent regime. Under his rule, corruption and rights abuses became rampant as the elite plundered the economy. His downfall ushered in a democracy in Indonesia and term limits are meant to prevent a repeat of its authoritarian past.
Last Wednesday, Widodo also told his ministers to address the nation’s rising inflation instead of stirring controversy around the 2024 election.
“Nobody bring up a (presidential) term extension or election delay anymore. No more!” Widodo said.
In June last year, he said in a news conference that he plans to adhere to the constitution when his supporters began to roll out the idea suggesting his term could be legally extended through a constitutional amendment or election delay.
Supporters argued it was necessary to give Widodo more time to deal with the recovery of the economy that slumped during the two-year pandemic, and allow him to complete his agenda, including the $35 billion capital relocation project to the island of Borneo.
Despite denials, doubts about his intentions have persisted.
“People are still skeptical about Jokowi’s indecision regarding the third term,” said Ujang Komarudin, a political analyst from Al-Azhar Indonesia University, using Widodo's popular nickname. "The alleged plans have deviated far from the constitution and would be a major blow for Indonesia’s democratic reform,” he said, adding that it may not stop students from taking to the streets.
Widodo was sworn in for his second and final five-year term in October 2019 with pledges to champion democracy and take bolder action against poverty and entrenched corruption in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
Known for his down-to-earth style, Widodo is also the first president from outside the country’s super rich and often corrupt, political, business and military elite. He grew up in a rented bamboo shack on the banks of a flood-prone river in Solo city on Java island, and often presents himself as a man of the people.
His popular appeal helped him win previous elections for mayor of Solo and governor of Jakarta.