Indonesia candidates call on president to remain neutral ahead of 2024 poll

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Two potential successors of Indonesia’s outgoing President Joko Widodo on Monday called on him to remain neutral in the run-up to next year’s election amid public criticism he may be trying to retain power after leaving office.

Presidential candidates Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo urged the leader to maintain neutrality ahead of the Feb. 14, 2024 election, which is also being contested by Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto who is running with the president’s son.

“We often meet with people who love the president and they have a message: the president must maintain neutrality,” ex-Jakarta governor Anies told reporters after a lunch with Jokowi and the other presidential candidates at the state palace.

Democracy activists and political sources have raised concerns over what they see as Jokowi’s attempts to cling to power and build a political dynasty, especially after a recent court ruling tweaked eligibility criteria, allowing the president’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to join Prabowo’s ticket.

Analysts say the political maneouvering risks entrenching dynastic and patronage politics in a country that bore authoritarian rule for 32 years until 1998.

Prabowo, who has a slim lead in opinion polls, said Monday’s lunch was held in an “intimate” environment. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to a comment about the call for Jokowi to be neutral.

Though Jokowi has publicly said he will not interfere in the election, the popular president has tacitly backed Prabowo and by mobilising his legions of supporters to campaign for the candidate and pairing his son with his former rival.

On Monday, Jokowi also instructed regional leaders to remain neutral in the election.

The president is free to back any candidate, and with consistently high approval ratings, is a kingmaker in the election, analysts say.

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Angus MacSwan)