Speculation has abounded as the PDI-P scrambles to downplay recent talk of a leadership succession.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has told The Jakarta Post in an exclusive interview that he wishes only to return home once he retires from the national political stage, a desire that seemingly nips in the bud any suggestions that he could take over the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) with the backing of loyal supporters.
Solo, the old name of his Central Java hometown of Surakarta, appears to be on his mind; it was there that the former furniture businessman plied his trade and stumbled into regional politics, setting him on a meteoric rise to the top job that has had his fans clamoring for more than a two-term presidency.
Speculation has abounded as the PDI-P scrambles to downplay recent talk of a leadership succession, with more and more people coming around to the possibility that the party’s matriarch, Megawati Soekarnoputri, could soon step down.
But when asked if he could be persuaded to take over the reins of the party as sought by an alleged volunteer supporter group, Jokowi rebuffed the suggestion.
“I’m going home to Solo after I retire,” he said at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Wednesday.
“Seriously, I’m not kidding.”
Scouted as a political newcomer with a then-novel take on regional governance, the former Surakarta mayor and later Jakarta governor helped the PDI-P break free from a 10-year spell in the opposition ranks to win the 2014 elections.
Puan Maharani, Megawati’s daughter and heir-apparent who at the time was the head of the party’s election campaign team, even told the Post that the decision to nominate Jokowi as the PDI-P’s presidential candidate of choice was more about guaranteeing the continuity of Sukarno’s ideology – and not necessarily his bloodline.
Fast-forward to now, with the Javanese leader having two years left of a relatively successful decade-long tenure in office, and one would be forgiven for thinking Jokowi’s star power could outlive official term limits and be applied elsewhere.
Ojo pedhot oyote’
For the PDI-P elite, however, the thought of someone from outside the Sukarno clan taking over the party is nothing more than a distraction. Megawati is Sukarno’s daughter.
Party secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto stated that matters pertaining to succession would only be debated at the next national congress – to be held in 2024 – and that anyone who brought it up now would be inciting political conflict.
“When I was touring the regions, everyone in the party was united as one behind Bu Mega’s leadership,” he said at an event held at the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister in Jakarta, on Friday.
For political observers, the question of the PDI-P succession also goes hand-in-hand with the preservation of the bloodline of Indonesia’s founding father.
“The majority of PDI-P voters are Sukarno loyalists, which is why the phrase ojo pedhot oyote – ‘don’t cut out the roots’ – is repeatedly drilled into the minds of the party’s rank and file,” said Khoirul Umam, executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Strategic Affairs (Indostrategic).
As for Jokowi’s position within the party’s system of guided democracy, it is unlikely Sukarno’s descendants would let him take over as chairman. However, the President’s popularity and abundant political capital could still help him win them over if played right, Umam said.
On another note, Jokowi is unlikely to be able to completely escape politics, given that he must safeguard his legacy and seek out a successor that shares his vision, said Yunarto Wijaya, executive director of Charta Politika. “
What we can look for is whether he will get an honorable advisory role within the PDI-P or if he will be in a position to give his blessing to the next president,” he told the Post.
As he comes closer to the end of his presidency, whispers of a rift between Jokowi and Megawati have surfaced, especially since the President hinted at his support for fellow PDI-P member and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo in May to run as his successor in the 2024 elections.
Ganjar’s bid, however, rests not only with the PDI-P matriarch, who has the final say on the party’s nominee, but also Puan, who also has her eye on the presidency. Ganjar and Puan loyalists were recently reprimanded by the party for suggesting the two could be potential contenders.
In early October, Jokowi and Megawati held a closed-door meeting at the Batu Tulis Palace, a privately owned residence of former president Sukarno’s family in Bogor, West Java. They discussed matters pertaining to the upcoming presidential elections, Hasto said.
But Jokowi himself said that only a party or a coalition of parties would be able to nominate presidential candidates.
“I’m not the party chairman,” he told the Post.