Indonesian president’s son exceeds expectations of some in first VP debate

Pizaro Gozali Idrus, Nazarudin Latif and Dandy Koswaraputra
Indonesian president’s son exceeds expectations of some in first VP debate Gibran Rakabuming Raka (center), flanked by Muhaimin Iskandar and Mohammad Mahfud MD, speaks out during the Indonesian vice presidential debate at the Jakarta Convention Center, Dec. 22, 2023.
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of Indonesia’s leader, exceeded some expectations during his debut on the national stage Friday as he squared off against two other vice-presidential candidates in a live-televised debate. 

Gibran, 36, the mayor of Solo and son of term-limited President Joko “Jokowi Widodo, has been criticized as a novice and privileged politician who benefits from his father’s popularity and influence since presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto picked him to be his running mate for the February 2024 general election.

Prabowo, the defense minister in Jokowi’s cabinet and current frontrunner in the polls, is one of three candidates vying to replace him as president next October.  

As he stepped in front of the cameras on Friday night, Gibran joined seasoned politicians Muhaimin Iskandar and Mohammad Mahfud MD in the first of two vice-presidential debates. The three men sparred on topics ranging from the economy, to infrastructure and urban development, during the debate held at the Jakarta Convention Center. 

“Indonesia is a big country. We have to be able to get out of the middle-income trap,” Gibran said as he expressed a vision for Southeast Asia’s largest and most populated country. 

He talked about spreading industrial growth across regions and empowering small- and medium-sized enterprises. Gibran also cited Indonesia’s resilient economic performance, declining unemployment and poverty along with controlled inflation.

“Amid the global recession, trade wars, and geopolitical conflicts, our country’s average economic growth remains resilient at an average of 5%,” he said, defending his father’s record even though he does not represent Jokowi’s party.

Gibran also outlined plans for further industrialization, not just in Java but also in other regions, especially in eastern Indonesia. He addressed the pressing issues of digital policy and economic growth while stressing the importance of cybersecurity and data protection.

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Muhaimin Iskandar (left) and Gibran Rakabuming Raka participate in the Indonesian vice presidential debate at the Jakarta Convention Center, Dec. 22, 2023. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

Some commentators spoke positively of Gibran’s performance in the debate. 

“Gibran dominates, clearly because of his very thorough preparation and training,” Ainun Najib, a data scientist and founder of, a platform for monitoring election results, said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Najib praised Gibran’s ability to convey his key points in the debate.

A political science lecturer said Gibran managed to counter criticism that he owed his political success to his father’s influence and allocation of funds and projects to his city.

“Gibran is way better than my expectation, though my expectation is low,” Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at Jenderal Achmad Yani University in Cimahi, said in a message posted on X. 

Mahfud MD, the running mate of ruling party candidate Ganjar Pranowo, focused on the need to eradicate corruption to unlock economic potential.

Muhaimin, who is on a ticket with former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, called for social assistance programs to be continued and expanded to boost the purchasing power of those in need. 

The three presidential candidates had debated earlier this month.

Candidates’ concerns

Mahfud MD, who serves as minister for political, legal and security affairs, shared stories of citizens affected by corruption and pledged to combat it vigorously. 

“The problem is there’s so much corruption and inefficiency. Corruption occurs in the legislative, executive and judicial institutions,” he said.

Mahfud MD also emphasized the unavoidable nature of the digital economy and the need for caution because of its disruptive impact while highlighting the dangers of online lenders.

“We have to monitor the online lending platforms because there are many cases that harm the people, even to the point of suicide, because of the very high interest rates,” he said.

Muhaimin focused on strengthening social assistance programs and youth empowerment, issuing a proposal to dedicate a portion of the national budget to youth initiatives. He also called for trade policies that protect domestic industries.

“We have to close the gap between the technological progress and the abilities of SMEs. We have to provide government assistance in terms of digital literacy and marketing, so that SMEs can compete in the digital market,” he said using an acronym for small- and mid-sized enterprises.

Usep Syaiful Akhyar, a researcher at the Populi Center, a think-tank in Jakarta, said many people did not anticipate Gibran’s performance because he was the only contender with no track record in debating.

“Gibran seemed well-prepared. He had a clear target audience – Jokowi’s backers from 2019 and the youth,” he said.

Novri Susan, a sociologist from Airlangga University in Surabaya, said Gibran’s experience as an entrepreneur helped him.

“Plus, he belongs to the digital generation. Mahfud and Muhaimin are not familiar with the crypto world, while Gibran may have invested in crypto for some time,” he told BenarNews.

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Mohammad Mahfud MD speaks to the nation during the Indonesian vice presidential debate in Jakarta, Dec. 22, 2023. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

On Feb. 14, Indonesians will elect the successor to Jokowi, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. 

Gibran’s candidacy is widely seen as a continuation of his father’s legacy. 

Still, his bid for office has attracted controversy because of a perceived conflict of interest and accusations of nepotism, particularly involving a Constitutional Court ruling led by his uncle Anwar Usman. The court’s decision allowed candidates younger than 40, including Gibran, to run for a national office after they held an elected regional office, thus enabling his candidacy.

That ruling resulted in Anwar being dismissed as chief justice of the Constitutional Court although he remains on the bench.

New capital city

The candidates offered differing views on Jokowi’s efforts to move the national capital from Jakarta to Borneo island, at a cost of U.S. $33 billion. 

Gibran defended the initiative while emphasizing its potential to drive development.

“By building the new capital, we will create more opportunities for growth, mobility and employment across the nation,” he said. 

“Nusantara is more than just a new administrative center, it is a representation of balanced and inclusive development. The new capital also reflects our vision of transforming Indonesia’s economy and society,” he said.

Mahfud MD and Muhaimin raised concerns about the project’s reliance on public funds and the need for balanced investment in infrastructure and human resources.

Gibran countered Muhaimin’s argument by pointing out his previous support for the project and questioning his change of heart.

After the debate, one analyst was not completely sold on Gibran’s performance.

“Gibran surprised me in the vice presidential debate, even acting as if he knew better than Mahfud MD and Muhaimin,” said Dedi Kurnia Syah, the executive director of Indonesia Political Opinion, a research institute. 

“He made some good arguments, but many of his statements lacked focus,” he told BenarNews. 


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