Indonesian president's son also rises, but what will his role as new VP be?

By Ananda Teresia and Kate Lamb

JAKARTA, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Everything about Indonesia’s 36-year-old presumed incoming vice president – from his looks and mannerisms to his baritone voice – is reminiscent of his father, the outgoing and wildly popular President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi.

Many voters say they were drawn to president-in-waiting Prabowo Subianto’s ticket in part because of the ex-commander having Jokowi’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as his running mate.

The Prabowo-Gibran team clinched about 58% of votes in unofficial “quick counts” by independent pollsters after Wednesday’s elections. These counts have proven to be accurate in past elections.

That puts Gibran on track to be the youngest vice president in Indonesia’s history. However, there are clear differences between Jokowi and his millennial son.

While Jokowi already had 10 years of public service under his belt before climbing to the presidency in 2014, Gibran has but two as mayor of their hometown of Solo.

Where Jokowi was once seen as breaking through old-guard barriers to usher in a new era of democracy, Gibran’s expedited rise has led to complaints of nepotism and judicial transgression.

Jokowi has been criticised for alleged political interference after making highly publicised appearances with his former rival Prabowo, and after a last-minute court ruling tweaked eligibility criteria, enabling his son to join the leading ticket.

The president has denied any wrongdoing.

Gibran’s path to the vice presidency has also raised questions about how prepared he is to step up to the national stage, even if the vice presidency is a position with limited power and influence.

Gibran, however, expressed confidence he is ready for a national role in a speech on Wednesday night after Prabowo declared victory.

“Three months ago, I was nothing. They said I was vacuous, and afraid to face the debate,” Gibran told supporters. “But one thing is for sure, thanks to your prayers and support, Prabowo and I are here.”

Past vice presidents have typically tended to play a low-key role, unless given a specific mandate by the president.

But the perceived manoeuvres to install Gibran as second-in-line to the top job has prompted speculation the vice president’s office may be granted additional powers.

VP’S ROLE

Ongoing deliberations of a draft law about a new special region for Jakarta, the status of which will change with a planned new capital, include a proposal for a greater Jakarta council, chaired by the vice president.

“It does show that there is this type of thinking going on by some people in the background,” said political analyst, Kevin O’Rourke.

Despite widespread expectation of continuity of Jokowi’s programmes in a Prabowo government, analysts say one focus will be how Jokowi may seek to wield influence through his son.

Before Gibran was elected as mayor of his hometown Solo in 2020, a position also once held by his father, he ran a catering and restaurant business in the city and reportedly shied away from politics.

Jokowi has repeatedly denied he was involved in Gibran’s decision to run for mayor, and then for the vice presidency. At one point, he even said he’d like to see his son eventually take over the family furniture business.

Before Gibran’s candidacy was finalised, the constitutional court – which was then headed by his uncle – amended an age limit rule to allow people under 40 to run for the presidency, or vice presidency, if they had regional leadership experience.

Many Indonesians said they were shocked and disappointed by the ruling. With Jokowi’s rise to power coming just 15 years after the fall of ex-strongman Suharto, many worried the decision signalled a resurgence of patronage politics and cronyism, they said.

One humorous critic on social media posted an image of a packet of instant noodles with Gibran’s face on the packaging labelled “Instant Vice Presidential candidate” and the comment “RIP DEMOKRASI”.

Educated abroad, in Singapore and Australia, Gibran’s own attitude toward his ascent has also been described by some Indonesians as off-putting, and a contrast to the humble, Javanese demeanour of his father.

Responding to criticism that he is riding on the coat-tails of his father, Gibran has said that Indonesia is a democracy and people are free to choose their leaders.

But last October he reportedly told a crowd of mothers in Solo who were protesting against dynastic politics to “go home and cook for their children”.

Nevertheless, Indonesians have opted to give Gibran a go, and having a youthful scion on the ticket with the 72-year-old Prabowo may have helped draw in the votes of young people.

“The quick count is high because of the young voters,” Gibran said on Wednesday. “We want to involve more youngsters in the future.” (Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Kay Johnson and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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