President Widodo under pressure to show clear stance on whether to delay election

Talks on postponing the general election for Indonesia's next President, Vice President and members of Parliament have revived since late February. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo is under mounting pressure to make a clearer statement on whether he supports an idea being floated by some political parties of postponing the next general election in 2024.

Talks on postponing the Valentine's Day general election to choose Indonesia's next President, Vice President and members of Parliament by two or three years have revived since late February.

But to do so would require an Act of Parliament to amend Indonesia's constitution.

That did not stop National Awakening Party (PKB) chairman Muhaimin Iskandar from first raising the idea of postponing the election for a few years on the grounds that the country should not lose momentum in its post pandemic recovery.

Speaking to reporters on Feb 26, he argued an election would be followed by a transfer of power that would cause economic stagnation, economic uncertainty and potentially conflicts. Coming so soon in 2024, it would be bad timing for Indonesia.

The chairmen of at least two other parties, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and Golkar, supported Mr Muhaimin. PAN said Indonesia's economy should not yet be burdened by a costly election while it was still recovering from the pandemic.

Indonesia's economy has been among the most affected by the coronavirus in South-east Asia. It sustained larger-than-usual budget deficits during the two years of the pandemic when it had to pump money into the economy and distribute aid to the most vulnerable.

With a population of 270 million, the world's fourth most populous country has had 5.77 million Covid-19 cases. The total number of deaths as of March 7 was 150,430.

Mr Widodo, whose party is the Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDI-P), has neither supported nor quashed the idea in public. Over the weekend, however, he told Kompas daily he would comply with the constitution, adding that in a democracy, anyone is free to suggest the idea.

It was not the first time he had been guarded. Last December, touching on a closely-related issue when some politicians surfaced a thought about amending the constitution to extend the presidential term limit, Mr Widodo said publicly: "If you hear anyone saying that, the possibilities are three: they wanted to slap me in the face, to unduly gain my favour, to bring me down."

Article 7 of Indonesia's 1945 constitution stipulates that the elected President and Vice President can hold an office term of five years and they can be re-elected only once. The constitution also says the President and Vice President must be directly elected every five years.

"Unless President Joko Widodo categorically denounces the plan, he could be perceived by the public to be encouraging it," Mr Endy Bayuni, senior editor of The Jakarta Post, wrote on Monday (March 7).

Mr Endy added: "It is not enough for the President to say…that he would abide by the constitution and the national political consensus. Political leaders can easily engineer political consensus to stay in power without openly defying the constitution."

Mr Endy is also a board member of the Facebook Oversight Board, consisting of 20 people from 16 countries from a wide range of professions, including former judges and human rights activists who review the platform's content decisions and make binding decisions based on respect for freedom of expression and human rights.

Dr Djayadi Hanan of Paramadina University told The Straits Times: "He made ambiguous, too normative a statement. He has to be firm and say: stop the talks on extending the presidential term and on postponing the election, and we stick to the scheduled election." 

Any amendment of the constitution must go through a full parliamentary session with two-thirds of the People's Consultative Assembly, consisting of MPs from political parties and non-partisan provincial representatives. To pass an amendment, 50 per cent of those present plus one vote must agree.

Mr Widodo's ruling coalition, consisting of seven of the nine political parties in Parliament, controls the majority of the seats.

Mr Djayadi argued it is not impossible for Mr Widodo to exert his influence and have political parties amend the constitution to set the stage for him to extend his term without breaching the constitution.

"That's possible. In early 2021, all parties practically agreed to do one thing that was against Jokowi's wish. Next thing we knew, they did not go ahead with what they had agreed to do," Mr Djayadi said, using Mr Widodo's nickname. The issue was over the schedule of elections for more than 100 provincial governors and regents.

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