Indonesian VP candidate angers women by blaming ‘demanding’ wives for hubbies’ corruption

Arie Firdaus
Indonesian VP candidate angers women by blaming ‘demanding’ wives for hubbies’ corruption Mohammad Mahfud MD (right), the Indonesian ruling party’s vice presidential candidate and the country’s current chief security minister, addresses a gathering after the drawing of ballot numbers for candidates at the General Elections Commission office in Jakarta, Nov. 14, 2023.
[Adek Berry/AFP]

Indonesian women’s rights activists and many on social media slammed a vice presidential candidate’s comments as sexist and misogynistic after he suggested that the wives of graft convicts were to blame for their husbands’ offenses.

Mohammad Mahfud MD, a sitting minister and vice presidential nominee for the ruling party, told a group of women in West Sumatra that wives put pressure on their husbands to live beyond their means, causing the men to resort to corrupt actions.

“In many cases, husbands who get involved in crimes are because their wives are not good,” he said on Sunday during a speech at a prayer assembly in Padang, the capital of the religiously conservative province, where he discussed the importance of women’s role in nation-building.

“Many corrupt officials are now in jail because their wives are demanding. Their salary is 20 million rupiah (U.S. $1,400), but their spending is 50 million rupiah.”

Mahfud MD, who serves as coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, is the running mate of  presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo, a former governor of Central Java and member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).   

“Misogynistic,” is what Maidina Rahmawati, of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, called the statement by the VP candidate. She urged him to acknowledge his error and apologize.

“That’s stereotyping of women. Corruption, especially in Indonesia, is systemic and not a domestic matter,” Maidina, a program manager at the Jakarta-based NGO, told BenarNews.

In fact, she said, Indonesia is a male-dominant society that cultivates a desire for influence and excessive wealth.

“Corruption stems from power-hungry people who take advantage of a system that lacks accountability, and also from a patriarchal culture that fosters greed and irresponsibility,” Maidina said.

Achmad Baidowi, a spokesman for Ganjar’s campaign, declined to elaborate on Mahfud MD’s remarks, merely saying that their team had “many women.”

Demonstrators set fires during a protest against the alleged corruption of Lintasarta, a subsidiary of an Indonesian telecommunications company Indosat, in connection with a graft case in which Indonesia's former minister of communications and information technology Johnny Plate was later convicted, in Jakarta, Sept. 25, 2023. [Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago and Southeast Asia’s most populous country, is notorious for corruption at most levels of society.

Its reputation for deep-seated graft worsened last month when President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo dismissed the chief of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Firli Bahuri, after police named him a suspect in a corruption case. 

As it is, six cabinet ministers in nearly a decade of Jokowi’s tenure have become embroiled in  graft cases, fueling criticism that the president has eroded anti-corruption measures during his two terms. 

And in April, Indonesia announced it would set up a high-level task force to investigate one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country – U.S. $23.3 billion in allegedly suspicious transactions over the last 14 years within the Finance Ministry. 

The move came amid public outrage at the lavish lifestyles of some finance officials, whose wealth was exposed after a case involving the son of a senior taxman. The case raised questions about how civil servants could afford luxury cars, designer clothes and overseas trips on modest salaries.

‘Very sexist and prejudiced’

Siti Aminah Tardi, a commissioner at the government-funded National Commission on Violence Against Women, said a person could turn to corruption due to financial stress in the family, including from his wife.

“But making the wife the main cause of corruption is improper,” Siti said.

“Talking about corruption by emphasizing the wife’s influence on the husband will blind us to other factors such as poor oversight and poor law enforcement,” Siti said.

Iim Fahima, a businesswoman, took a sarcastic shot at male-dominated societies, in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“Really, men are supposed to be rational beings, but why do they act so irrationally? It is said that men are leaders for women, but why are they easily influenced by their wives?” she asked. 

Women laborers take part during a protest against the government’s planned labor reforms outside the Indonesian parliamentary building in Jakarta, Jan. 20, 2020. [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Meanwhile, one of the two other rival presidential campaigns pounced on the minister for his remarks. 

The campaign spokeswoman for Anies Baswedan likened Mahfud MD’s comments to statements from people who blame rape victims for wearing revealing clothes.

“That’s very sexist and prejudiced. It’s a common statement in a male-dominated society,” spokeswoman Eva Kusuma Sundari said.

Indonesia is scheduled to hold presidential and legislative elections on Feb. 14, 2024, with more than 200 million voters eligible to cast their ballots.

The frontrunner in the race to succeed Jokowi is Prabowo Subianto, a former army general and the current defense minister, who is paired with Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the president’s eldest son.

All three candidates have pledged to address women’s issues.

Anies has promised to increase the number of women in the military and the police, as well as in the foreign service. His campaign has also vowed to ensure maternity and paternity leave for parents.

Prabowo has expressed his commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, but without giving details.

And Ganjar, whose running mate is Mahfud MD, has said he would expand childcare facilities in the formal and informal sectors to ease the burden on women who work outside the home.


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