Nur Janti and Yerica Lai, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has said that he had no problem with his ministers running for election while in office, but cautioned that he would review their performance as a point of consideration for the next Cabinet reshuffle.
"We follow the MK [Constitutional Court] ruling. I can also conduct an evaluation; if [their campaign] affects their performance they could just take a long leave," the President told The Jakarta Post in an exclusive at the State Palace on Wednesday.
The President's remarks came amid controversy over a recent Constitutional Court ruling overturning a provision within the 2017 Election Law that requires high-ranking officials to quit if they wish to run for election. The court has ruled that they now only need the President's permission to take leave during the campaign season.
Article 170 Paragraph 1 of the 2017 Election Law stipulates that ministers or ministerial-level officials must resign if they are nominated by a political party or coalition of political parties to run as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate.
The nine-panel bench partially accepted a judicial petition to annul the law that was submitted by members of the Garuda Party. They argued that the provision was discriminatory, saying that everyone had the right to vote and run for office. They demanded that the provisions be declared unconstitutional and revoked.
Several members of the Cabinet have expressed that they have accepted their respective party's presidential nomination, or at least have shown their intention to run for election.
Golkar Party chairman Airlangga Hartarto, who now serves as the coordinating economic minister, has installed election banners in major cities in a clear attempt to boost his profile before the 2024 election.
Golkar endorsed Airlangga as its presidential candidate in a leadership meeting in 2019, though the party has yet to officially confirm its decision after forming the United Indonesia Coalition with the United Development Party (PAN) and the National Mandate Party (PPP). Airlangga, however, has yet to drop his presidential bid.
Gerindra Party leader Prabowo Subianto, who now serves as the defense minister, has accepted his third presidential nomination from his own party, which is forming a coalition with the National Awakening Party (PKB).
The other Cabinet member potentially running for election is State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister Erick Thohir, who has been widely tipped as a potential running mate of Prabowo as well as other potential presidential candidates, including Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo.
Parties' mixed response
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) welcomed the ruling, but warned that ministers running for presidential office should not take advantage of the state facilities to get votes.
"As long as they are not using state facilities [there should be no problem]. But if they use the state facilities they could be arrested," Bambang Wuryanto, the party's election team chairman, said.
NasDem Party executive Willy Aditya said that he also respected the ruling, but added that allowing Cabinet members to take leave for campaigning with the President's permission was problematic, as it could create the impression that they were running as successors of the incumbent, increasing the potential for abuse of power. "It is ethically disrupting," Willy said.
NasDem is the only member of the ruling coalition to have been working with the opposition parties – the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) – to endorse former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan as its presidential candidate.
The Democratic Party is also concerned about the ruling, citing the fact that ministers would still have influence on their subordinates when they are on leave. "It is worth noting that Indonesian society still has a strong patron-client culture," Democratic Party spokesman Herzaki Mahendra Putra said.
Conflicts of interest
Bivitri Susanti, a constitutional law expert from the Jakarta-based Jentera School of Law lamented the court ruling, saying that it would benefit certain ministers such as Airlangga and Prabowo.
"We need a regulation to push people to step down [as] this will incite conflicts of interest. Furthermore, some ministers have [already] shown their interest in running for election," she said.
Susi Dwi Harijanti, a constitutional law professor at Bandung's Padjadjaran University, said that ministerial-level officials with a huge influence and authority could use their power to garner votes, which she called a potential abuse of power.
She said the justices should consider the impact of their ruling. "I am worried that they will misuse it, not only the facilities but their influence, especially for the Indonesian people, where the figure is important to attract people's voices."
She said the negative impact of the decision is part of the chain effect of Indonesia's politics, in which the President appointed politicians from the coalition parties to get executive positions, instead of choosing those capable of the duties.
"This is just the excess. The president takes people from political parties to become ministers to secure his policies. And political parties always say that they provide the best candidate to the president, at the end of the day those candidates are likely to be nominated to the upcoming election," she said. (ahw)