Hundreds protest in Jakarta demanding president’s ouster for alleged interference in election

Pizaro Gozali Idrus, Dandy Koswaraputra and Eko Siswono Toyudho
Hundreds protest in Jakarta demanding president’s ouster for alleged interference in election Protesters shout slogans as tires burn during a protest against alleged favoritism by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in the Feb. 14 presidential election, outside the General Elections Commission in Jakarta, March 18, 2024.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

Hundreds of Indonesians called for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ouster over alleged electoral fraud as they rallied outside the elections commission on Monday, while authorities braced for more protests with official results of last month’s national polls expected this week.

Many observers and university academics allege that the outgoing leader meddled with and showed favoritism in the Feb. 14 general election, particularly the presidential polls. The official results, expected out on Wednesday, will likely confirm that those were won by Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and his running mate, Jokowi’s eldest son.

The protest in Jakarta by a group called the National Coalition to Save Democracy saw some participants set tires on fire, but there was no violence even as its spokesperson, Merry Samiri, alleged the elections were marred by overt and widespread irregularities. 

“We will continue our demonstrations until March 20, when the General Elections Commission announces the election outcomes,” Merry said, as protesters displayed banners demanding Jokowi be brought to justice and key election officials fired.

“We feel that democracy has been utterly violated by Jokowi, and we demand that the House of Representatives impeach him.”

Authorities deployed more than 2,000 police officers to secure key locations in anticipation of further unrest after the coalition threatened over the weekend to hold larger protests against the election results.

Fawwaz Ihza Mahenda, a student leader who participated in Monday’s demonstration, said that under Jokowi’s two-term administration, democratic principles had been compromised and there had been backsliding in hard-fought democratic reforms. 

“The president’s [election] interference and misuse of social aid for political gain represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of institutional quality neglect during Indonesia’s current development process,” he told BenarNews.

Indonesians rally outside the election commission building demanding President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s removal over alleged meddling in last month’s elections, Jakarta, March 18, 2024. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

Prabowo, who had contested the presidential polls twice before and lost to Jokowi, won the February election by a landslide, unofficial but reliable vote counts showed. He is set to be inaugurated on Oct. 20, when Jokowi makes way for him after a decade as president.

The longstanding rivalry between Prabowo and Jokowi came to a surprising halt in 2019 when Jokowi invited Prabowo to serve as his defense minister.

Last year, Prabowo extended an invitation to Jokowi’s son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, to be his running mate for the presidential election, in what many said was a strategic move, given the incumbent president’s high popularity rating.

This decision was made possible by a controversial Constitutional Court ruling in October 2023, which cleared the path for Gibran to run for office. 

The ruling led to allegations of nepotism and political maneuvering in the judiciary due to the court leadership’s ties to Jokowi.

Critics, who had previously accused Jokowi of overseeing a decline in democratic standards, saw this ruling as further evidence of their concerns.

Indonesia had earlier been praised for its successful transition from Suharto’s authoritarian rule to a vibrant democracy.

However, from the constitutional court’s October decision to Prabowo’s all-but-assured ascension to power, questions are being raised about the state of democracy in the country.

For instance, critics mention the defanging of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), an institution that once stood as a beacon of hope in Indonesia’s struggle against entrenched corruption.

Critics also say Jokowi has suppressed free speech and criticism, and resorted to arbitrary arrests and attacks on government dissidents.

Additionally, two watchdog groups labeled the February election the worst since Indonesia’s transition to democracy in 1998, citing issues ranging from campaign finance to electoral fraud.

Prabowo’s opponents, former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan and former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo, have contested the results and plan to file a suit in the Constitutional Court, alleging widespread fraud, including the misuse of state resources, intimidation, and vote-buying. 

The two also pledged to collaborate on urging a parliamentary inquiry to look into these issues.

Monday’s protests reflect a broader public dissatisfaction with both the presidential and legislative elections, Arifki Chaniago, executive director of  think tank Aljabar Strategic, told BenarNews.

“[I]t is their right to protest,” he said.


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