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Indonesian court under fire over Widodo son's election bid

Allowing 'underaged' Gibran Raka to run in presidential poll seen as an attempt by outgoing president to forge a dynasty
Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (R) and vice presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka (L), son of President Joko Widodo, attend the registration for the 2024 election in Jakarta on Oct. 25.

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto (R) and vice presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka (L), son of President Joko Widodo, attend the registration for the 2024 election in Jakarta on Oct. 25. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 26, 2023 03:45 AM GMT
Updated: October 26, 2023 03:51 AM GMT

Civil society groups have launched a scathing attack on Indonesia’s top court for allowing the underaged son of President Joko Widodo to run in next year’s presidential polls. 

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the 35-year-old eldest son of Widodo, registered their candidacy with the election commission on Oct. 25 following a Constitutional Court ruling last week that gave the green light to candidates under the required minimum age of 40 to run for the presidency or vice-presidency if they had held elected office at a regional level.

The irregularities in the judges' decisions "clearly demonstrate the strong presence of political interests,” Lucius Karus, a Catholic and a researcher at the Indonesian Parliament Concerned Community Forum, told UCA News.

In many cities, spearheaded by students, demonstrations and rallies are taking place while social media is being are flooded with messages criticizing the court's decision.

According to a survey published in Indonesia's Kompas daily newspaper on Oct. 23 some 60.7 percent of respondents believed the ruling was meant to perpetuate the Widodo dynasty in the world's third largest democracy.

Karus said that public pressure will continue to "guard our democracy."

He also said it will serve as a warning to the Constitutional Court, which also adjudicates disputes related to the presidential election, slated for February next year.

Raka currently serves as mayor of Solo in Central Java province,  and the nine-member court, headed by Anwar Usman, a brother-in law of Widodo, added a clause which gives exceptions to those who have already held elected positions.

Petrus Selestinus from the Indonesian Democracy Defense Team, said that the decision "could be interpreted as a conspiracy " and was full of nepotism because Judge Usman is Raka's uncle.

In an Oct. 24 statement, many civil society groups, including the Association for Elections and Democracy, said the decision was “very embarrassing.”

They said that Usman violated Law No. 48 which states that judges "are obliged to be absent from a hearing if they have a direct or indirect interest in the case."

"This decision will go down in history as one of the worst decisions in the existence of the Constitutional Court," they said.

On Oct. 24, an ethics committee reported the nine judges to the Corruption Eradication Commission, accusing them of collusion and nepotism.

Usman defended the contentious ruling, saying at a press conference on Oct. 23 that he was "responsible to the nation, state, society, but the most important thing is responsibility to Allah."

Subianto and Raka are supported by nine parties, including the Indonesian Solidarity Party, led by Kaesang Pangareb, Widodo's youngest son who became its chairman just three days after becoming a party member. 

Subianto and Raka have already topped a number of surveys, including one released on Oct. 24 by the Indonesian Survey Institute Denny JA.

Widodo has not yet formally endorsed any candidate in the current race.  However, the former furniture businessman has approved his son’s nomination as part of a legal norm.

“As parents, we can only support and give [our] blessing,” Widodo told reporters, referring to his son’s nomination. 

Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has nominated former Central Java governor, Ganjar Pranowo and Mohammad Mahfud MD, the security minister, as its presidential candidates.

The election, scheduled for Feb. 14, 2024, is expected to be a three-way race between Subianto, Pranowo, and Anies Baswedan, an ex-governor of Jakarta.

Widodo is the first president outside the nation’s military and political elite. The former mayor of Solo became president in 2014 in a campaign that painted him as a man of the masses.

In his second term, Widodo appointed Subianto as his defense chief. 

The elevation of Raka, a businessman who owns several restaurants and catering services, to become Subianto’s running mate is seen as the outgoing president’s unspoken endorsement of the potential transformation of his legacy into a dynasty.

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