Jokowi Ally Says Possible to Change Rules, Extend Time in Power

Jokowi Ally Says Possible to Change Rules, Extend Time in Power

A key ally of President Joko Widodo said it is possible to change the constitution to extend his time in office beyond two terms, breathing new life into speculation that there has been support among the political elite for the move. 

Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, is serving his final five-year term and the government has only recently set a date for general elections in February 2024 after many months of delay. 

Critics say a third term for Jokowi would would herald a return to an era of former president Suharto who ruled for three decades with an iron fist until his ouster in 1998 after which Indonesia embraced a freer democracy. Proponents of the move argue it will help the government see through an ambitious infrastructure agenda, including relocating the capital to Borneo.

Luhut Panjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Investment and Maritime Affairs, said a move to extend the term limits needs to follow a process where it is first debated and voted on in the parliament. If agreed on, the proposal can be brought to the People’s Consultative Assembly and the constitution could then be amended, he said. 

“The constitution is the people’s voice, so we don’t need to be allergic about this issue,” Panjaitan said in an interview with Bloomberg News. Jokowi has been clear in saying that he will follow the constitution, “but if there’s a change” in the constitution, the president has to follow it, Panjaitan added.

The cabinet hadn’t discussed the term extension as it is a matter for the legislative branch, he said.  

This is not the first time such a proposal has come up in recent times. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was Jokowi’s predecessor, had opposed a call to extend his term and said he would reject any move to amend the constitution amid widespread anger in Indonesia. 

“I think one of presidential curses, problems is attempting to extend the terms,” said Feri Amsari, a constitutional expert at Andalas University. “As you can read in Indonesia’s history, President Sukarno and President Suharto also extended their terms,” he said in reference to Indonesia’s first two presidents. 

Jokowi has also repeatedly voiced his opposition to a term extension or to running for a third time - which is currently barred under the constitution. However, there has been speculation that some groups in his ruling government coalition, which make up four in five parliamentarians, have been working behind the scenes to get him to stay on. 

Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia recently suggested that many in the business community were hoping for a delay in the 2024 election to minimize political disturbances and help steady economic growth momentum. 

Extending Jokowi’s term had been seen as an attempt to safeguard a $34 billion project for a new capital city that backers say is key to sustaining an economic recovery from the pandemic. Still, even as he remains popular among the electorate, 57% of Indonesians don’t support an additional term or extension for Jokowi, a December survey by Indikator Politik found. 

“People like to make noise. Anyone can say, ‘oh, #DownWithJokowi. Jokowi isn’t good. That’s allowed right?,” Panjaitan said. “So if there’s another group that says we want the president to stay three terms, five terms, 10 terms or even three years, is that allowed or not? What’s wrong with that?”

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