By Stanley Widianto and Ananda Teresia
JAKARTA (Reuters) -An Indonesian court issued a ruling on Monday on the eligibility criteria for the country’s top posts that will pave the way for the eldest son of outgoing leader Joko Widodo to run for vice president in next year’s election.
In a decision that outraged critics of the president, the Constitutional Court ruled that candidates under the required age of 40 could seek the presidency or vice presidency in the Feb. 14 ballot, providing they have previously held elected regional office.
The decision bolsters speculation that Indonesia’s president of nearly 10 years, who is popularly known as Jokowi, is acting to retain influence by backing Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto as his successor, with his eldest son and Surakarta city mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, as running mate.
Deciding on a petition that challenged the minimum age for running for the presidency and vice presidency, Judge M Guntur Hamzah said an age restriction would be an “injustice” against younger Indonesians with experience in government posts.
“A minimum age of 40 not only hampers but hinders the development of the young generation,” he said, noting leaders of France and New Zealand both rose to the top jobs in their 30s.
The ruling just three days out from registration for the election could deepen concern about the perceived influence of Jokowi over Indonesia’s democratic institutions, including his brother-in-law Anwar Usman’s role as the court’s chief justice.
A court spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Anwar’s involvement in the ruling.
Gibran has yet to publicly declare an intention to run for vice president and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court’s decision.
An entrenchment of patronage and dynastic politics would be at odds with the democratic reforms the world’s third-largest democracy has achieved since the end of the rule of nepotistic strongman Suharto a quarter of a century ago, some analysts say.
“The judicial institution has somewhat legalised dynastic politics in Indonesia,” said Bivitri Susanti of Indonesia’s Jentera School of Law.
The hugely popular Jokowi, who is not allowed to run for a third term, is keen to preserve his legacy after ushering in a series of economic reforms and a major push to attract big-ticket investment to Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
In a video on his office’s YouTube channel, Jokowi said he would not comment on the court ruling for risk of it being misconstrued as judicial interference.
Asked whether his son would run for vice president, he said: “I’d like to emphasise, I do not get in the middle of the business of presidential or vice presidential candidates.”
Jokowi has not formally backed Prabowo and last week brushed off a question about whether he was seeking to create a political dynasty.
Prabowo, a former special forces commander and Jokowi’s rival in presidential races in 2014 and 2019, is neck-and-neck in opinion polls for the top job with Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, with ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan a distant third.
In an opinion piece on Monday in the Jakarta Post published before the court ruling, Ary Hermawan, its editor at large, said the court’s decision could have a wide-reaching impact.
“Concerns have been raised over whether the Constitutional Court can truly function as an impartial referee in the political race,” Hermawan wrote. “We are entering uncharted territory here.”
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto, Ananda Teresia and Fransiska Nangoy; Writing and additional reporting by Kate Lamb; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Martin Petty and Tomasz Janowski)