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Indonesian leader Jokowi accused of bias, interference in presidential election

In World
February 01, 2024

JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo is facing mounting public criticism over his perceived political interference and lack of neutrality as he campaigns for the leading candidate in this month’s presidential election.

While Jokowi, as the President is known, has not explicitly endorsed any of the three candidates in the Feb 14 election, he has made highly publicised appearances with front runner Prabowo Subianto, who is running with the leader’s son as his candidate for vice-president.

In Indonesia, sitting presidents are allowed to campaign for candidates provided they do not use state resources and take official leave to do so, but incumbents have typically remained neutral.

But since October, when a top court tweaked eligibility rules to allow Mr Widodo’s 36-year-old son to run with Defence Minister Prabowo, the President has faced mounting allegations of ethical and legal breaches.

The furore has prompted Mr Widodo to repeatedly clarify his stance and even show reporters printouts of the election law to clear his name.

“Yes, a president can join the campaign. Yes, a president can pick a side. All that is permitted as long as he does not use state facilities,” he told reporters last week, after attending a defence event with Mr Prabowo.

Critics say he has flouted election laws by appearing to campaign for Mr Prabowo while attending government functions and meals together, and rival candidates allege state agencies have disrupted rallies and torn down promotional materials on the campaign trail.

“Some of our campaign activities were indeed cancelled or not permitted by various local governments… and non-governmental entities, which likely were influenced by those in power,” said Mr Ade Chandra, a campaign spokesman for rival presidential candidate Anies Baswedan.

State rice handouts have allegedly included Mr Prabowo campaign stickers, prompting complaints from rivals, according to media. The government has denied that any one candidate benefits from the state social assistance programme.

Discontent with Mr Widodo’s actions is also extending to his Cabinet. Chief security minister Mahfud MD, who is a vice-presidential candidate on a rival ticket, resigned on Feb 1, saying the decision was his “ethical preference” and that he had to “focus on other tasks”.

A day earlier, his aide said Mr Mahud’s decision was due to Mr Widodo taking sides in the campaign.

A group of academics at Mr Widodo’s alma mater, Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, have issued a petition highlighting the President’s “disregard for political principles”, and urging him to “return to the democratic path”.

Nearly 205 million voters are registered to vote in the world’s third-largest democracy for a successor to Mr Widodo, who has spent a decade in office and is limited to two terms by the constitution.

With a 20-point lead in opinion surveys, 72-year-old Mr Prabowo is the clear favourite, an advantage analysts say is driven largely by the President’s backing. REUTERS

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