Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R), his wife Iriana Widodo (C) and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri (2nd L) leave the parliament after delivering the annual speech in Jakarta on August 16, 2022, on the eve of the country's Independence Day celebrations. (Photo by WILLY KURNIAWAN / POOL / AFP)

The President and His Political Party: An Impending Collision


There is a widening rift between Indonesian President Joko Widodo and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle which endorsed his candidacy in the country’s two previous presidential elections.

The growing rift between President Joko Widodo and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has widened. The recent appointment of the president’s older son as the running mate of Prabowo Subianto and the elevation of his younger son as the chairman of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) have marked the battle lines in the run-up to the February 2024 presidential elections.

On Sunday (22 Oct), Prabowo — the defence minister and 2024 presidential candidate — announced that Gibran Rakabuming Raka would be his running mate. Last Monday, the Constitutional Court ruled — quite controversially — that experienced elected officials under the age of 40 would be able to run for either the president or vice president. This paved the way for Gibran, 36, to be chosen as Prabowo’s running mate. Gibran is the mayor of Surakarta city. Like his father, Gibran is a member of the PDI-P.

On 27 September, Kaesang Pangarep, the youngest son of Jokowi, assumed the chairmanship of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a youth-oriented political party that fell short of surpassing the parliamentary threshold during the 2019 election. Instead of joining the party of his father and brother, however, Kaesang had joined the ranks of PSI two days earlier (25 September).

The two moves are indicative of behind-the-scenes manoeuvering by the president, who appears to be intent on cementing his political future at the expense of the PDI-P: one, via the Prabowo-Gibran ticket; and second, through Kaesang’s influence in the PSI.

Jokowi has not publicly endorsed Prabowo, whom he defeated in previous presidential contests in 2014 and 2019. But Gibran was present when a network of groups behind Jokowi and Gibran declared their support for Prabowo in May 2023. In addition, Kaesang conspicuously sported a T-shirt adorned with an image of Prabowo during a podcast episode broadcasted on YouTube in May 2023. He has also invited Prabowo to become a guest star in his popular podcast show on YouTube.

Growing links between Jokowi and Prabowo are increasingly apparent. The president has been expected to endorse Ganjar Pranowo, the PDI-P’s presidential candidate. In July 2023, Puan Maharani, the daughter of PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri, said Jokowi would back Ganjar, just as the President was “supported and promoted [in electoral runs] by the party in 2014 and 2019.”

The two moves (by Jokowi’s sons) are indicative of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the President, who appears to be intent on cementing his political future at the expense of the PDI-P: one, via the Prabowo-Gibran ticket; and second, through Kaesang’s influence in the PSI.

But it appears that the president is marching to the beat of his own drum. PSI spokesperson Dedek Prayudi has admitted that Jokowi has asked Raja Juli Antoni, the Secretary General of PSI and Deputy Minister of Agrarian and Spatial Planning, to familiarise himself with Prabowo. In August 2023, Prabowo and key personnel from his Gerindra party visited PSI’s headquarters, where they were cordially greeted by PSI leaders. Despite not having made a formal decision to endorse Prabowo, the PSI frequently participates in events organised by the Prabowo coalition in Hambalang, Bogor and other gatherings aligned with Prabowo’s political agenda. PSI’s support for Prabowo became clearer after Kaesang and other party leaders went to Prabowo’s home in early October 2023 to discuss forming a presidential election coalition. Kaesang has also publicly stated that he is in favour of Gibran becoming Prabowo’s running mate.

The relationship between PDI-P and PSI reached a nadir even before Kaesang joined the latter in September. PSI asserts that its public endorsement of Ganjar as a presidential contender in October 2022 was ignored by PDI-P (PSI eventually withdrew its support for Ganjar). The PDI-P has expressed its dissatisfaction over PSI’s premature endorsement of Ganjar ahead of a decision yet to be made by Megawati. The elites of the PDI-P party have labelled the PSI party as a parasite.

Now that Jokowi and the PSI have laid their cards on the table, recriminations from the PDI-P have come thick and fast. The party has even issued an ultimatum to Gibran. A senior PDI-P politician has called Gibran a traitor who will be cursed by God. Megawati has yet to take a position, but the party will not let Jokowi and Gibran go without “punishment”.

As it stands, the relationship between the PDI-P and Jokowi has reached the point of no return. The PDI-P finds itself in a dilemma. If it openly criticises Jokowi, it might harm the president’s image and affect the party’s prospects in the next election. A September 2023 Indikator survey reveals that 22 per cent of respondents chose the PDI-P because of Jokowi, while only 2.4 per cent did so because of Megawati. 

If the PDI-P does not criticise Jokowi, the party could see its electoral fortunes affected by the Prabowo-Gibran ticket, which could erode Ganjar’s support in PDI-P strongholds such as Central Java and East Java.

Under Kaesang’s leadership, the PSI can also bank on Jokowi’s popularity and erode PDI-P’s electoral share. Kaesang as PSI chairman might cause pro-Jokowi supporters in the PDI-P to switch to the PSI. The clash between the parties is inevitable: both parties are pro-tolerance and draw their support from nationalist and non-Muslim circles. According to Indikator exit poll data from 2019, the PSI was the third largest party in terms of non-Muslim support, trailing the PDI-P and NasDem.

The polls are already showing an uptick in support for PSI due to Kaesang’s new appointment. According to Indikator surveys, PSI received 0.6 per cent support in August, against the PDI-P’s 25 per cent prior to Kaesang becoming PSI chair. In early October — two weeks after Kaesang’s appointment — support for PDI-P declined to 22 per cent, while support for PSI increased slightly to 1 per cent. Granted, the decrease in PDI-P support might not be exclusively attributable to PSI. But the Indikator’s October poll found that PSI’s support could increase to 2.4 per cent when respondents were informed that Kaesang is the PSI chairman. At the time of the survey, only 39 per cent of respondents recognised Kaesang as the party chair.

Simply put, the more people know that Kaesang is the chairman of PSI, the more it could erode support for the PDI-P. If this trend continues, PSI has the potential to surpass the 4 per cent parliamentary threshold in the 2024 legislative election. If the PDI-P’s vote share falls, Prabowo’s party Gerindra could also enjoy some electoral upside. Gerindra is currently ranked second in various credible polls. In essence, the mutually reinforcing relationship between Jokowi, Prabowo, and the PSI could have an impact not only on the 2024 election, but also on the future landscape of Indonesian politics.


Burhanuddin Muhtadi is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, and Senior Lecturer at Islamic State University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah.