Critics skewer Indonesian president’s VP candidate son for ‘arrogant’ antics during debate

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Critics skewer Indonesian president’s VP candidate son for ‘arrogant’ antics during debate Indonesian vice presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka (right) pretends to search for a lost “answer” after a response by one of his opponents, Mohammad Mahfud MD (not in the frame), as the third candidate, Muhaimin Iskandar, observes, during a vice presidential debate in Jakarta, Jan. 21, 2024.
[Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

Social media users on Monday criticized Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the Indonesian president’s eldest son and a vice-presidential hopeful, for coming across as “disrespectful and arrogant” through his comments and gestures during the latest televised debate among VP candidates.

Gibran, the 36-year-old running mate of presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto was censured for instance for using an English term, “greenflation,” to question rival Mohammad Mahfud MD, during Sunday night’s debate at the Jakarta Convention Center. 

Gibran, whose critics scorn him as a “nepo baby” – a creation of perceived nepotism – refused to translate the term as the moderators had asked, “because [Mahfud] is a professor.” Mahfud MD responded by speaking about the green economy rather than greenflation, according to various media reports.

Gibran then widened his eyes, stooped and made a palm down salute gesture as though he was searching for something.

“I’m looking for Prof. Mahfud’s answer, I’m looking for it, where is it? I can’t find it,” he said.

“Greenflation” refers to potential price rises caused by the adoption of environmentally friendly initiatives.

Gibran also targeted the third vice presidential candidate Muhaimin Iskandar, poking fun at him for reading from his notes while answering the moderator’s question.

Throughout the debate Gibran repeatedly mocked and belittled Mahfud MD and Muhaimin, who are the vice presidential candidates for ruling party (PDIP) candidate Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan, the former Jakarta governor, respectively.

Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who’s also from the PDIP, has not officially endorsed any of the three pairs publicly, but it’s understood he supports the one that includes his eldest son Gibran. 

Critics have accused Gibran, the mayor of Solo in Central Java, of being a product of nepotism. A controversial ruling in October by the Constitutional Court, led at that time by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, allowed Gibran to run as vice president with Prabowo.

The three presidential candidates in the 2024 Indonesia election and their running mates, (from left), Ganjar Pranowo and Mohammad Mahfud MD; Anies Baswedan and Muhaimin Iskandar; and Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka; meet on stage at the end of the second vice presidential debate in Jakarta, Jan. 21, 2024. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

After the debate, Indonesians on social media didn’t hold back, linking Gibran’s behavior to his being a beneficiary of alleged nepotism.

“He gives me nepo baby energy. Arrogant, disrespectful and incompetent,” wrote a user of X (formerly Twitter), who goes by the username @sarishara. 

“Nepo baby” is short for “nepotism baby,” and refers to the child of a successful person who has also seen success having been given a leg up by his or her parent’s status.

Jokowi’s eldest son was also described as “arrogant” and “snobbish” and his antics as “cringe,” which is slang for cringeworthy or embarrassing. Along with Gibran’s name, these terms became trending topics on X (formerly Twitter).

“Gibran has no manners and decency. He acts like a big shot and a bully,” another X user, @hajaiz, wrote.

A few, though, defended the 36-year-old son of Jokowi as they stood up for the youth in general.

“Why is it that when young people are tough and critical, they are always considered rude? But if it is the older people who do that to the young people, it is always seen as normal, and we as young people are asked to accept it as if it is something ordinary. Isn’t this a double standard?” wrote X user @tsamaraDKI.

More than half the Indonesian electorate of nearly 205 million is between 17 and 35 years old.

Gibran got a surprisingly positive response after his participation in the first debate among the vice presidential candidates last month against seasoned politicians such as Mahfud MD and Muhaimin.

Some analysts said he was well prepared and had managed to counter the “nepo baby” criticism against him.

This time around the response to Jokowi’s eldest wasn’t just not positive, it was unfavorable, at least according to one analysis of social media.

Gibran received 60% negative sentiment, 33% positive, and 7% neutral from social media users who responded to the vice presidential debate, according to an analysis by Drone Emprit, a research firm.

Vice presidential candidate Mohammad Mahfud MD, currently serving as Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, delivers his statement during the second vice presidential debate, Jakarta, Jan. 21, 2024. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

The three candidates discussed issues related to natural resources, sustainable development, the environment, and indigenous people.

Gibran, who supports his father’s policy of processing minerals domestically, challenged Muhaimin over his views on nickel, a key metal for electric vehicles (EVs).  

Nickel downstreaming, a big Jokowi initiative, is a policy that aims to add value to Indonesia’s nickel resources by processing them into intermediate or final products, such as stainless steel or batteries. 

The Anies-Muhaimin campaign has criticized Jokowi’s policy, citing the example of Tesla, the EV giant, which is switching to cheaper batteries that do not use nickel.

“Your team often talks about LFP [batteries]. Are you anti-nickel or what? Please explain,” Gibran asked Muhaimin, unleashing yet another somewhat obscure initialism.

LFP battery uses lithium iron phosphate as the cathode material, which is cheaper and more abundant than nickel, but has a shorter driving range. Some Chinese battery makers have been producing LFP batteries for electric vehicles.

Muhaimin did not respond to Gibran’s question and instead talked about environmental ethics. Gibran took that to mean his opponent didn’t know what LFP batteries were.

”It’s strange, right? His team are the ones who keep talking about LFP batteries, but the vice presidential candidate doesn’t know what an LFP battery is,” Gibran said.

In response, Muhaimin slammed the nickel processing industry in Indonesia, saying it neglected environmental and social impacts and hired many Chinese workers.

“Its future [nickel downstreaming’s] is uncertain. … we harm the environment and society,” Muhaimin said.

He also claimed that the state received little income from the nickel downstreaming policy because Indonesian nickel was sold at a low price to smelter companies, so it had no leverage.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of nickel, and has been imposing export bans and taxes on nickel ore since 2014 to encourage domestic downstreaming.

‘I leave it to the viewers’

Gibran should have acted more maturely and professionally, said Ahmad Khoirul Umam, a political analyst at Paramadina University.

“Instead of stopping his unsympathetic gimmicks, Gibran kept [on with] them, and this gave Muhaimin Iskandar and Mahfud MD an opportunity to counter his strategy by treating his trivial and irrelevant questions as not deserving an answer,” Umam told BenarNews.

He said Gibran’s antics were childish and ineffective.

Besides, said political researcher Dedi Kurnia Syah, Gibran did not answer many questions from Muhaimin and Mahfud MD.

“Gibran tried to mask his weaknesses with personal insults and gestures to offend Mahfud MD and Muhaimin, and even tried to damage their reputation,” Dedi, executive director of Indonesia Political Opinion, a political research institute, told BenarNews.

At a press conference after the debate, Gibran said the public would judge his performance.

“Whether it’s offensive or not, I leave it to the viewers. I just exchanged ideas, conveyed vision and mission. That’s all,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ujang Komarudin, a political analyst at Al Azhar University Indonesia, said Gibran’s antics were part of his debating strategy.

“In a debate anything can happen, including tricks to pressure the opponent,” he told BenarNews.

But Effendy Gazali, a political lecturer at the University of Indonesia, said he had never seen a politician resorting to such tactics.

“Gibran’s style is unprecedented in the world of debates,” he told a YouTube talk show. 

“[E]ven Donald Trump, the former U.S. president who was notorious for his aggressive and controversial rhetoric, was more civil than Gibran.”

Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.