Prospect of a 3rd Jokowi term: trial balloons unlikely to fly?

By Syafiq Hasyim, Visiting Fellow, Indonesia Studies Programme – ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

Speculation of the possibility of Indonesian President Jokowi seeking a third term in office remains rife. However, as Syafiq Hasyim of the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute writes, there currently appears to be near-unanimous opposition to the idea.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) has consistently denied rumours that he would seek a third presidential term in 2024. But speculation of his intentions was revived again after the president recently gave his blessing for the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) to proceed with a limited amendment to the Constitution to grant the MPR authority to issue state policy outlines to guide long-term national development. On 14 August, MPR Speaker Bambang Soesatyo sought to quash such speculation by reassuring the public that the proposed Constitutional amendments would be confined to relevant articles concerning the introduction of state policy outlines and that no other amendments, notably those pertaining to presidential term limits, would be considered. Still, Jokowi’s agreement for the MPR to proceed with the limited Constitutional amendments would probably fuel suspicions that this could pave the way for future amendments to allow the president to serve three terms.

The idea of supporting Jokowi for a third term has been floated on and off since the beginning of his second term in 2019. The group that has been most supportive of the idea is Jok-Pro2024 (Volunteer Community of Jokowi-Prabowo for 2024), led by M Qadari (Executive Director of Indo Barometer) and Ivan Timothy (Secretary-General of Jok-Pro 2024). They argue that a third term for Jokowi with Prabowo Subianto as his running-mate would be politically necessary to resolve the deep polarisation in Indonesian society. But based on recent polls, the level of popular support for a third term for Jokowi remains admittedly low. According to a recent Indostrategic survey, around 80 per cent of respondents disapproved of the idea, while only 7.4 per cent of respondents supported the idea. However, the leaders of Jok-Pro2024 have drawn some optimism in the data showing that of those who supported the idea of a third Jokowi term, 48 per cent came from PDIP, and 15 per cent came from Golkar, suggesting that support for Jokowi extended more broadly beyond his PDIP base. Jok-Pro2024’s leaders were also hopeful that support for Jokowi’s third term would snowball after more Jok-Pro 2024 branches are established in various cities like Pekalongan (Central Java), Banten, Pontianak (Kalimantan), Kubu Raya (Riau) and Yogyakarta.

Earlier support from Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama for the presidential election system to revert to the Suharto-era model of having the MPR elect the president had also contributed to speculation of NU’s possible support for a third Jokowi term. In late November 2019, the press reported that the NU leadership had made known its view that it was better for the MPR to elect the president, as direct presidential elections involved high political and social costs.

But apart from the ardent support of Jok-Pro2024, there appears to be near-unanimous opposition to the idea of a third Jokowi term among the political elite. The idea is opposed not only by opposition parties and elements of society but also by Jokowi’s coalition parties as well as some senior ministers. PKS parliamentarian Mardani Ali Sera said that the discourse on Jokowi’s three-term presidency was dangerous to democracy as it was aimed at sustaining unlimited power. Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Society Mahfud MD also rejected the proposal, citing the Constitution’s two-term limit. Former Indonesian President and PDIP chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri has also rejected the notion of Jokowi continuing his presidency for a third term.

The key Muslim organisations have strongly opposed the idea. Chairman of the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) Cholil Nafis viewed the involvement of educated people and democracy activists in promoting the discourse of a third term for Jokowi as a big irony as it was against the spirit of democracy. MUI’s head of law and legislation, Basri Bermana, supported amending the Constitution only to reintroduce the concept of state guidelines for national policy but did not agree to change the system of direct elections for the president and vice-president.

The second-largest Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah has also made clear that a third presidential term for Jokowi was not possible. Secretary-General of Muhammadiyah Abdul Mukti argued that the proposal would be a setback for Indonesia’s democracy and against the spirit of reforms. The General Chairman of Muhammadiyah Youth Sunanto said that Jokowi should not run in the 2024 presidential election if he wanted to be recognised as a statesman. Muhammadiyah also disagreed with any proposal to change the system of direct presidential elections back to the Suharto-era system of electing the president via the MPR.

Even within NU, the more progressive elements have baulked at the idea. Reacting to the prospect of replacing direct presidential elections with an indirect system via the MPR, many NU intellectuals such as the late Solahuddin Wahid and Ulil Abshar Abdalla had said that NU should not be a party to “conservative” powers that would unwind Indonesia’s democracy.

Given the strong opposition to the prospect of a third Jokowi term from across the political spectrum, it would seem that the trial balloons floating the idea seem unlikely to fly. But in the tradition of Javanese politics, one must never discount the power of the “dalang” (or puppet master) behind the scenes. The fact that speculation remains strong about the prospect of a third Jokowi term suggests that there could be a puppet master behind the scenes seeking to keep that possibility alive.

Syafiq Hasyim is a Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute.

Banner image: Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaks at the opening of the Indonesian International Motor Show, Jakarta, Indonesia - April 19, 2018. Credit: Aries Hendrick Apriyanto, Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute's online journal Fulcrum on August 31, 2021.