Exclusive-Even Indonesian president’s loyalists outraged over election moves-sources

By Kate Lamb and Ananda Teresia

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s president is facing discontent within his administration over perceived meddling in next year’s elections, with some cabinet ministers personally expressing outrage to colleagues, two sources with direct knowledge said.

A third government source and longtime loyalist to President Joko Widodo also expressed disappointment with what they viewed as an effort by Jokowi, as the president is known, to cling to power through his son, who is running for vice president on the ticket of a former Jokowi rival.

Jokowi is constitutionally required to leave office next year after serving the maximum two terms.

But the popular leader is now facing accusations even within his own inner circle of trying to retain power through nepotism and judicial interference after the constitutional court created a loophole in age requirements enabling his eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, to contest next year’s election.

The Oct. 16 ruling, issued by a court headed then by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, saw Gibran named as the vice presidential running mate of Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto soon after.

The dramatic developments sparked widespread outcry in the world’s third-largest democracy, prompting criticism that Jokowi was seeking to retain power through his nascent political dynasty.

Reuters spoke to five people familiar with the current administration who reported deep discomfort in Jokowi’s inner circle and political party following the court decision. Four of the five spoke on condition of anonymity.

The presidential palace did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.


Several figures who worked closely with Jokowi for a decade say they feel betrayed by a leader who once symbolised a new generation of leadership, unencumbered by links to the reign of former authoritarian ruler Suharto.

One former Jokowi loyalist and right-hand man, Andi Widjajanto, resigned from his post as governor of the National Resilience Agency the same day as the constitutional court ruling to join the campaign of Ganjar Pranowo, who is now in a tight race against Prabowo and the president’s son.

Andi called the timing of his resignation “deliberate” and openly criticised the president.

“As someone that worked with Jokowi for a long time I am very, very disappointed in him,” Andi said.

Two sources familiar with Jokowi’s administration said they had each been told by two separate cabinet ministers that they were personally “shocked” by the court ruling and subsequent announcement of Gibran’s candidacy.

One of those sources described a meeting of several Cabinet ministers in the wake of the court ruling in which one official appeared on the verge of tears.

None of the ministers reported to be involved in the meeting or to be upset by Jokowi’s actions agreed to comment on the record.

Members of the PDI-P party, to which Jokowi belongs, are also rankled by what they consider to be the president’s shifting allegiances, with influential members watching carefully if Jokowi might replace intelligence chief Budi Gunawan, which would be seen as a move to try to tilt the scales toward Prabowo in the election, said one close political source with direct knowledge.


The Feb. 14 presidential election is shaping up to be a tight race between Ganjar and Prabowo, with a former Jakarta governor running third. If no one wins an outright majority, a runoff will take place in June.

Ganjar is running under the banner of the PDI-P, while Jokowi’s son, even though he has not officially left the PDI-P, has joined the Prabowo ticket, raising speculation the president’s support had shifted.

“As an analogy it’s like Jokowi was Obama in the Democrat Party and then suddenly decided to support Trump,” Andi said.

Jokowi has defeated Prabowo, a controversial ex-general and a former son-in-law of Suharto, in the previous two presidential elections.

Whether the president’s son joining Prabowo will tilt the race remains unclear. While some say Jokowi could use his popularity to sway voters toward Prabowo, others say any public aversion to dynastic politics means the move could backfire.

A survey this week found that almost 50% of people believed the court ruling was an “abuse of power” and that Gibran was an inappropriate candidate.

“I think the pulse of the society is very negative, especially in Java (Indonesia’s most populated island). A lot of people are talking about it, not just the liberal elites,” said Made Supriatma, visiting fellow at the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

“This is about the arrogance of power and privilege. Ordinary Indonesians do not like it.”

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)