The date for the next Indonesian presidential polls has been formally announced, ostensibly ending speculation that President Jokowi would seek to extend his term in office.
The recent announcement by the Indonesian General Elections Commission (KPU) that the next presidential election would be held on 14 February 2024 is a notable setback for actors in the pro-Jokowi camp who have been advocating for a postponement of the elections until 2027. The general push to explore ways to extend President Jokowi’s term in office, including another earlier political agenda to extend the presidential term limits, has been bandied about in public for the past two years. The KPU announcement appears to have effectively squashed this effort.
The latest confirmation of the election schedule in 2024 is in accordance with the aspirations of the Indonesian public. Credible polls have repeatedly found that the majority of respondents support the idea that the presidential election should be held according to regular practice once every five years without being postponed for any reason. There is also strong public support for limiting the president’s term to a maximum of two terms of office, in line with the current Constitution.
In December last year, Indonesian pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia polled the public on the issue of election postponement. The majority of the public (58 per cent) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the opinion that ‘President Jokowi’s term in office should be extended until 2027 so that he can complete his pandemic handling and national economic recovery agenda.’ Meanwhile, 35.5 per cent strongly agreed or agreed with the statement.
This finding had been used by Jokowi’s Minister of Investment, Bahlil Lahadalia, to argue that there was strong support for Jokowi to remain in office till 2027. He had publicly claimed that the poll findings indicated that support for Jokowi remaining in office was increasing and were consistent with sentiments captured during his private discussions with the business community advocating for the election to be postponed until 2027 as Indonesia would be just recovering from the pandemic slump.
Credible polls have repeatedly found that the majority of respondents support the idea that the presidential election should be held according to regular practice once every five years without being postponed for any reason.
However, Bahlil’s statements were an inaccurate reading of the poll findings, as Indikator Politik Indonesia only had one data point from the December 2021 survey on public support for a postponement of the elections. Therefore, there was no prior data to compare whether support was increasing. Within the same questionnaire, Indikator had also put forward two statements that asked which statement best reflected the respondent’s own opinion. It found that only 24.5 per cent of respondents agreed with the opinion that ‘the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery agenda should become the priority to be put under control completely by President Jokowi even though it would mean the election should be postponed until 2027.’ This is a minority sentiment compared with more than two-thirds (67.2 per cent) of respondents who were more adamant that ‘the general elections should still take place on schedule in 2024 even though we are still in the midst of a pandemic crisis situation.’
Bahlil’s advocacy of a postponement of elections till 2027 had been a change in strategy to depart from an earlier effort to explore constitutional changes to allow the president to serve three terms. The minister probably saw the idea of postponing elections as a more politically feasible option, as pursuing three terms for Jokowi would involve an arduous and complicated process to amend the Constitution, as regulated in Article 37 of the Constitution. Even if the constitutional amendment to extend the presidential term limit was approved, Jokowi would still have to compete in the 2024 election.
In essence, postponing the elections would have been a convenient way for Jokowi and his allies to retain power for a longer period of time without getting a fresh mandate from the Indonesian people through elections. It would also have benefitted the business community, which generally prefers political continuity and stability.
KPU’s announcement of 14 February 2024 as the date for the next presidential election appears to have put paid to machinations to extend Jokowi’s term in office. But there are still five months before the start of the official electoral process by KPU in June this year. Five months would be considered a fairly sufficient window of opportunity, considering the highly dynamic nature of Indonesian politics. If Jokowi can maintain or even improve his high approval ratings amidst the economic recovery and navigate the country through the current Covid-19 Omicron wave, it will surely give some fresh ammunition for the Jokowi camp to make another bid to justify extending his term in office. As one of the most famous advocates of Realpolitik from 19th Century, Otto Von Bismarck, once said, ‘Politics is the art of the possible.’
Burhanuddin Muhtadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Insitute.
Kennedy Muslim is a Senior Researcher and Analyst at Indikator Politik Indonesia.