Mayoral bids by Indonesia President Jokowi's son and son-in-law spark 'political dynasty' debate

Indonesia is set to hold its regional elections on Dec 9, and the spotlight is once again trained on the families of the country’s top leaders who are eyeing some of the 270 posts of governors, mayors and regents.

Tensions have begun to emerge in Solo, a city in Central Java and home town of President Joko Widodo, after a mayoral candidate pulled out of the race in late May.

Mr Achmad Purnomo said he felt “uncomfortable” running for office in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and dismissed speculations of political pressure.

He would have had to compete against the President’s son, Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who threw his hat in the ring at the last minute.

Both are from the same political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Mr Achmad, the current deputy mayor, was nominated by the PDI-P’s Solo chapter, while Mr Gibran was proposed by the party’s Central Java provincial chapter.

As early as December last year, Mr Joko, or Jokowi as he is better known, had denied any involvement in his son’s mayoral bid. “It’s up to the people to decide. Everyone has the right to vote or be voted for,” he was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post newspaper. “This is a competition, not an appointment. It’s different.”

The President’s son-in-law Bobby Afif Nasution is also running for mayor of Medan, a city in North Sumatra, on PDI-P’s ticket.

Mr Joko is not the only politician whose family members have set their sights on a political career.

Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin’s daughter Siti Nur Azizah is also contesting for mayor of South Tangerang, outside the capital Jakarta, in the simultaneous regional elections.

Held every five years, the elections this year will elect 270 regional leaders across the country comprising nine governors, 224 regents and 37 mayors.

Over 100 million people are eligible to vote in the single-day polls, which were originally slated for Sept 23 but postponed due to the virus outbreak.

Analysts told The Straits Times the nominations were not a new phenomenon, and in fact demonstrated the entrenched practice of dynastic politics and nepotism in Indonesia where senior politicians and influential figures place their offspring and relatives in strategic positions in the government.

Mr Joko is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, for as long as an oligarchy continues to exist in the country’s political system, said Mr Akbar Faizal, executive director of Nagara Institute, a Jakarta-based research institute on political, democratic and state studies.

“The nominations (of Mr Joko’s family) show that political dynasty is not just growing, but it is flourishing,” he said.

Mr Achmad’s withdrawal, Mr Akbar said, was a typical reaction “in Javanese culture where people felt uncomfortable to go against people they believed wield power”.

He added: “Also, they felt, it’s impossible to win against the President’s son.”

Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, was Indonesia’s fifth president. Her daughter Puan Maharani is now a Speaker of Parliament.

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made no secret he was grooming his son, Agus Harimurti, to become a future leader.

Mr Gibran’s mayoral bid, however, sat uneasily among the public, as he had never expressed any interest to enter politics previously.

The 32-year-old culinary entrepreneur is better known for his martabak, or sweet pancakes, than his political talents. Like him, his 28-year-old property investor brother-in-law also has no political experience, analysts said.

“What are their qualifications? What are their capabilities, their track record?” Dr Djayadi Hanan, a political analyst from Paramadina University, said.

While there is no restriction on relatives of politicians running for public office, the selection criteria of political parties must be tightened. The government also needs to raise the quality of education in politics and administration, analysts said.

The biggest blow in the mayoral race, they added, is to Mr Joko’s reputation.

Mr Joko has earned praise for keeping his family and children away from political positions since the start of his presidential career. However, the nominations have only served to fuel assumptions that he is looking to create a political dynasty.

Dr Djayadi said: “People consider him to be more than a politician, but a statesman who doesn’t put his family interests first. That has been his strength all this while… It makes him very attractive and gives people a sense of hope. So now, many are disappointed that he has given his blessings to his son and son-in-law.”

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