Indonesia may have a new political dynasty with Jokowi’s family

Rakabuming and Nasution have won backing from the biggest political parties, including Jokowi’s PDIP

by BLOOMBERG / pic by BLOOMBERG

JAKARTA • A new political dynasty could be in the making in the world’s third-largest democracy, as family members of Indonesian President Joko Widodo stand for local election today.

The president’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming (centre) is running for mayor in Solo city, the same post that kicked off his father’s political career in 2005, while his son-in-law Bobby Nasution is also a mayoral candidate in Medan, the country’s fourth-largest city.

More than 105 million people will vote for the leaders of nine provinces, 224 regencies and 37 cities today. The final result must be declared before Dec 15, although an unofficial count is expected in the hours after polls close.

Although they’re newcomers, Rakabuming and Nasution have won backing from the biggest political parties, including Jokowi’s own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle or PDIP, even against other promising cadres who have worked in PDIP for much longer, said Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir, a postdoctoral research visitor at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute.

“If they were just an ordinary citizen or politician, they would not get that ticket easily,” Mudhoffir said. “Jokowi’s family will join the club of other existing political dynasties in the contest over power and resources. Indonesian politics will remain the same, or even worsen because dynasties and nepotism will become a new normal.”

The possible beginning of a Jokowi dynasty underlines how a few political families have managed to entrench themselves in Indonesia’s young democracy. His own meteoric rise to power was unique for his lack of ties to the political elite or background in the military, which was a key reason for his popularity, but he may leave his final term having set a more familiar legacy.

The president’s main backer and chair of PDIP, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is the daughter of the country’s first president Sukarno. She became the first female head of state in 2001 and her daughter Puan Maharani, currently speaker of the lower house in Parliament, has been touted as a potential presidential contender. Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono helped found the Democratic Party, which is now chaired by his eldest son, a former Jakarta gubernatorial candidate. Yudhoyono’s second son is an MP.

Jokowi, as the president is known, has downplayed similar ambitions for his family, saying that Rakabuming and Nasution’s bids are their own. “I have never forced my children to follow me or get into politics, there is no such thing,” Jokowi said in an interview with Kompas TV in November. “That’s simply the political right of every citizen, including my children.”

Rakabuming responded to the talk of a budding dynasty by saying he’s not guaranteed an electoral victory. “This is a contest, not an appointment,” he said after his nomination was announced in July.

The local elections, which were postponed in September due to the pandemic, will take place as Indonesia’s coronavirus infections and deaths spike by record levels yet again.

About 47% of respondents in an October survey by independent pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia said they’re unlikely to go to the polls over virus fears, compared to 41% who said they would likely vote. The rest were undecided.

Rakabuming will likely win his race “easily” and could draw comparisons to Jokowi and other young regional leaders, said Arya Fernandes, a political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. “His performance as Solo mayor will determine his political career.”

Meanwhile, Nasution might face a tougher battle against the incumbent mayor, especially since Jokowi failed to win at Medan city in the last two presidential elections, he said.

There’s a difference between Jokowi’s family and other political clans that awarded key positions to untested relatives, said Universitas Jendral Achmad Yani lecturer Yohanes Sulaiman. Jokowi’s image as an ordinary man, which has generated widespread support, will likely help him avoid public backlash by letting his son climb the political ladder by himself, he added.

Rakabuming “running from the bottom as a mayor seems to me a fair way to learn the ropes if he really wants to get involved in politics”, Sulaiman said. “Power is not handed to him on a silver platter.”