Indonesia’s Jokowi seeks major party takeover to retain decade-long influence

President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

JAKARTA, Mar 21, 2024, Reuters. Outgoing President Joko Widodo is trying to take control of one of Indonesia’s biggest political parties to retain the influence he racked up during a decade in power and protect it from his successor Prabowo Subianto, four members of the ruling coalition told Reuters.

Hugely popular but without a political party of his own, Jokowi, as he is commonly known, is seeking to install a key ally as head of Golkar, said the four senior politicians, who include three senior Golkar officials and who have direct knowledge of the matter.

Jokowi is also looking to secure a position as head of the party’s advisory board, a role that traditionally holds sway over the party leader, two politicians said.

“It is widely known within Golkar that Jokowi is looking to take control of the party and use it as his own political vehicle after he leaves office,” one Golkar official said, as the matter has been widely reported in local media.

“Jokowi is aware that he cannot control Prabowo.”

Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy, and boasts a trillion-dollar economy.

With Golkar poised to retain its position as the second-largest party in parliament after last month’s elections, controlling it would give Jokowi the agency to maintain his political clout in the face of Prabowo, a storied ex-commander who the election commission announced late on Wednesday had officially won the election with almost 60% of the vote.

After serving the maximum two terms, Jokowi was unable to contest the election and instead provided tacit backing to Prabowo, who ran with Jokowi’s son, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka.
But analysts and party officials say that despite this unofficial alliance, Jokowi is keen to diversify his support base to maintain his power.

“Prabowo is not someone you can control easily,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, an associate professor at Achmad Yani University. “Jokowi is trying to prolong his power.”

“There is nothing to stop Prabowo from doing whatever he wants,” he added. “Jokowi wants to make sure his programs get done… Keep in mind this a collision of interests.”

A spokesperson for Prabowo’s campaign team was not immediately available for comment. When asked about rumours that Jokowi plans to join Golkar, Ari Dwipayana, a special aide to the president told Reuters nothing had happened yet.

“Currently President Jokowi is focused on working to lead the government until the end of his term,” he said.

Golkar, a political party once synonymous with former authoritarian ruler Suharto, won the second-highest number of votes nationally, the official results showed, meaning its support in parliament will be crucial to the next government.

Party officials, who declined to be named citing the sensitivity of the matter, said Jokowi was hoping to preserve his legacy by making sure projects such as Nusantara, the new capital he envisioned, are completed under Prabowo – even if the incoming president decides to delay its progress.

He also wants to continue to nurture a political dynasty by ensuring his family, which is vying for various government roles across the nation, gets the support it needs.

“It definitely would be a major counterbalance because Golkar is going to be number two or perhaps even number one in parliament,” said political risk analyst Kevin O’Rourke.


To maintain his political foothold, Jokowi is quietly backing loyalists from his outgoing government to head Golkar.

These include his preferred candidate, Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia, as well as Coordinating Economic Minister and current Golkar chair Airlangga Hartarto and Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang, the political party sources said.

Spokespeople for the three ministers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Golkar party rules state that a candidate must be a party member for five years before becoming chair, meaning Jokowi is currently ineligible. These criteria, however, do not apply to the head of Golkar’s advisory council.

The Golkar congress to elect a new chief is slated for December, but two sources said there has been talk about holding it in April while Jokowi is still president. Prabowo is expected to be inaugurated this October.

“His intention is clear, he only want to use Golkar as his political vehicle,” a Golkar official said of Jokowi. “Otherwise what is the benefit of him joining now?”

Nominally a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Jokowi has for months been estranged from the party, with three senior PDI-P members saying the rift deepened when Jokowi declined to endorse the party’s presidential candidate and threw his weight behind Prabowo.

Securing a controlling stake over Golkar would afford Jokowi a party to nurture his family’s political ambitions.

After the meteoric rise of Gibran to the executive, Kaesang, 29, Jokowi’s youngest son, is considering a bid for mayor of Solo or Jakarta governor, while his wife may contest elections in Sleman, according to recent media reports.

Jokowi’s son-in-law Bobby, currently Medan mayor, is looking to run for governor of North Sumatra, media reports say. His brother-in-law is also a judge at the constitutional court. Last October the court controversially changed the election rules, enabling Gibran to run.

“Jokowi needs a big party to guarantee his future existence in power and political protection,” said Firman Noor, an analyst at Indonesia’s national research agency. “Without a strong party he will be a lame duck.”

Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Miral Fahmy

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