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Indonesian students demand president stay neutral before poll

Reuters - February 7, 2024

Jakarta – Around 100 students marched in Indonesia's capital Jakarta on Wednesday to protest what they say is political interference by outgoing president, Joko Widodo, in the presidential election to be held on Feb. 14.

While Jokowi, as the president is known, has not explicitly endorsed any of the three candidates in the election, he has made highly publicised appearances with frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, whose running mate is the president's eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

In Indonesia, sitting presidents are allowed to campaign for candidates provided they do not use state resources and take official leave to do so, but incumbents have typically remained neutral.

Jokowi has faced mounting allegations of ethical breaches and meddling in the election, especially after a top court tweaked eligibility rules in October, allowing Gibran to run.

Jokowi sought to reassure citizens on Wednesday, saying he would not join any campaign events in the run-up to voting day.

"By law, the president is allowed to join any campaign. But if the question is whether or not I'll campaign, the answer is, I will not campaign," he said.

Protesters clad in green and blue university jackets held banners near Indonesia's presidential palace in Jakarta saying "reject the unfair election", "Jokowi is deceitful", and "Jokowi is a traitor to [the ]reform era", referring to a period after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.

"We are done with the president's intervention in the 2024 election especially to help a human rights criminal win the election," protest organiser Tegar Afriansyah said ahead of the protest.

He was referring to allegations of past human rights abuses made against ex-special forces commander Prabowo, who has denied them.

Students can be a formidable political force in Indonesia.

Among Wednesday's protesters were activists from Jakarta's Trisakti University, where in 1998 four students were shot dead and dozens were injured, triggering riots and national protests that ultimately brought down Suharto.

The rally comes after academics from dozens of universities last week held a press conference to raise concerns over Indonesia's democratic decline and urge Jokowi and state officials to remain neutral.

Prabowo maintains a solid lead over rivals, ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and ex-Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, according to latest opinion surveys.

[Reporting by Stefanno Sulaiman, Ananda Teresia, Additional reporting by Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana, Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alexandra Hudson.]

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/indonesian-students-demand-president-remain-neutral-ahead-poll-2024-02-07