Jakarta – It's only natural for an outgoing president to have a preference of successor for the sake of policy continuity, but problems arise if he or she tries to define the course of the election, which should run in a democratic manner according to the Constitution.
In the case of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, his apparent support for, if not endorsement of, several presumptive presidential nominees such as Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Prabowo Subianto of the Gerindra Party should not be a big deal. Jokowi knows and has worked with both figures and has a sense of whether they will preserve his legacy and complete what he does not accomplish by the time he leaves office in October of next year.
Jokowi may also suggest running mates who he thinks best suit the presidential hopefuls and can help them win the election. On one occasion, the President publicly named a number of possible VP picks for Ganjar, which included Prabowo; State-owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir; Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD; and Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno.
But such preferences should remain counsel, not obligation, as political parties are the only institutions with the constitutional right to nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates. Jokowi must not force his will on the electorate or engineer the election to grant the upper hand to candidates who enjoy his support.
The President has been criticized for maneuvers his detractors call cawe-cawe (meddling, in Javanese) in the 2024 election. The formation of the United Indonesia Coalition (KIB), consisting of the Golkar Party, the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – as well as the alliance of Gerindra and the National Awakening Party (PKB) – cannot be separated from Jokowi's efforts to ensure the 2024 election goes as he wishes.
Critics, including the coalition that supports the nomination of former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who has built an image as the antithesis of Jokowi, have accused the President of breaking the principle of neutrality, which must be upheld to ensure a free and fair election.
In a closed-door meeting with media leaders on Monday, Jokowi defended the moves, which he said he had made for the nation's best interests and did not involve the state apparatus. But whatever his motives and justification, intervention in the elections by the most powerful person in the country is dangerous for democracy.
First of all, interfering in the electoral process runs counter to the President's responsibility to protect the legitimacy of the election. Whatever the means employed, any attempt to obstruct the democratic process is a grave breach of the founding values of our society.
Second, a departing president should refrain from meddling in the election simply to guarantee a smooth transfer of power. A peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of democracy, which is why Jokowi should ensure the election represents the desire of the people.
As the head of state, the President is responsible for making sure the 2024 election provides a level playing field for all aspirants. Jokowi's intervention can kill healthy competition, which will deprive Indonesians of opportunities to select the best candidates.
Public opinion, too, suggests that Jokowi should stop maneuvering for his own interests in the hunt for his successor. A survey by the research arms of Kompas newspaper, which polled 506 people between May 9 and 11, found that 90.3 percent of the respondents agreed that Jokowi should maintain his impartiality. However, there was an approximately 50-50 split among respondents as to whether Jokowi had actually been acting impartially.
For Jokowi, the choice is clear. If he wants people to remember him as a great statesman, he must stop meddling in the democratic process. Otherwise, he will enter the history books as just another power-hungry politician.