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Students kill all attempts to extend presidency beyond 2024

Jakarta Post - April 14, 2022

Kornelius Purba, Jakarta – The months-long controversy over a proposal to postpone the 2024 elections and extend the presidential term has ended. Any attempt to resurrect the plan will be futile because the nation will resist it.

Vocal students took to the streets as representatives of the silent majority on Monday, as if they were judges who had just decided in favor of the people, against those who had tried to keep President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in power beyond 2024.

The dust has now settled and Jokowi can focus fully on leading the nation to recovering from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has two and a half years to accomplish his mission until he leaves office on Oct. 20, 2024, including the first stages of constructing the new capital city, Nusantara.

Since Jokowi enjoys a relatively high popularity rating, considering that he is a second-term president, his blessings will matter to whomever aspires to succeed him. He is also relatively young still, so can expect to play a kingmaker role in the 2024 elections and beyond, even if he cannot be king.

Nor does he have a political party of his own or hold a key post at any party, but the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is sure to rely on him in its bid to maintain its political dominance by winning in 2024.

The much-reduced threat of COVID-19 has spelled yet more disaster for the power elite who hid their ill intention to return Indonesia to the age of dictatorship, which lasted 53 years from independence until May 21, 1998.

At least three political parties and three Cabinet ministers publicly proposed amending the Constitution to allow Jokowi to serve beyond his allotted term. But the Golkar Party, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) withdrew their support for this indecent proposal following Monday's student demonstration. The three ministers, which included Jokowi's right-hand man, Maritime and Investment Coordinating Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, are now hiding behind the President.

The eased pandemic restrictions due to the decline in COVID-19 transmissions made it difficult for the police to prevent students from holding rallies across the nation. Had these demonstrations not taken place, Indonesia's democracy could have been lost. The rallies at the House of Representatives and in many regions this month have settled the controversy over the presidential term beyond all doubt.

Why did the students succeed? Because they defended the interests of millions of ordinary Indonesians against the handful who tried to betray the spirit of reform.

It would do well to remember that nationwide student protests, financial collapse and accumulated public outrage over the greed of Soeharto's children and cronies forced deposed the dictator in May 1998 after 32 years of his rule. One year later, Indonesia held its first democratic election.

When the 1997 Asian financial crisis slammed Indonesia, students and activists were on the front line. Hundreds of students were detained, and some were abducted and tortured by the military. Army general Prabowo Subianto, who was then Soeharto's son-in-law, was dismissed on allegations of human rights violations.

Before this historic event, students also played a central role in changing the country's political course, by initiating the movement in 1966 that accelerated the fall of Sukarno.

The 1945 Constitution was amended four times in the spirit of reform between 1999 and 2002. The amendments set a two-term limit for the president, separated the police from the military, depoliticized the military and established the direct elections system.

The country held its first direct presidential election in 2004 and the following year, the people also started electing their mayors, regents and governors. It took the country only around a decade to win international recognition as the world's third largest democracy; something many thought unbelievable, considering that Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesian democracy is not perfect, and its shortcomings are many. The nation still has many issues to resolve, including freedom of religion. Minority religions still find difficulty practicing their faith as well as having their own houses of worship.

On the social justice front, the gap between the rich and the poor remains wide; in law enforcement, the battle against corruption is becoming increasingly difficult to win.

The nation is not perfect, but the perseverance and persistence of Indonesians in guarding their fragile democracy is incredible. But democracies worldwide are facing their toughest challenge yet.

In the United States, which has always taken pride in being the champion of democracy, millions of supporters of former president Donald Trump still believe that the 2020 elections were rigged, so Joe Biden's presidency is not legitimate.

Here at home, the nation still remains divided between the pro- and anti-Jokowi camps since the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections. The difference is that they do not behave like Trump supporters, who resorted to violence in storming the Capitol to prevent Biden from taking office, something that used to happen only in developing and underdeveloped countries.

Jokowi will continue to play a major role in national politics. He, like other politicians, will also continue to build his own political dynasty. His eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka is the mayor of Surakarta, Central Java, and his son-in-law Bobby Nasution is the mayor of Medan, North Sumatra. It is a safe bet that Jokowi is grooming them to bid for governorships during the 2024 regional head elections.

Hail to the students who staged Monday's peaceful protest in Jakarta. Their voices have been heard, loud and clear. Students will continue to be the vanguard of Indonesia's democracy and crush any attempt to prolong our presidency beyond its constitutional term.

[The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/04/14/students-kill-all-attempts-to-extend-presidency-beyond-2024.htm