The Jakarta Post
Over the past few years the world has seen prodigies flourish in national politics as exemplified in the rise of, among other young figures, Justin Trudeau in Canada, Emmanuel Macron of France, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Sebastian Kurz of Austria and, of course, Kim Jong-un of North Korea. By their standards, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is too old to govern, let alone seek a second five-year mandate next year.
But for Indonesian politicians, and perhaps electorates alike, age is a nonissue as evident in a plan to pair Jokowi with Vice President Jusuf Kalla in the presidential election once again after their 2014 victory. Keeping the winning team is being considered, if not debated, by power brokers at the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Golkar Party, the country’s largest and second-largest parties, although the General Elections Commission (KPU) will only open registration for presidential and vice presidential candidates in August.
Kalla will be 76 years old when the simultaneous presidential and legislative elections take place on April 19, 2019. By that time he will have twice served as vice president in two different administrations. He seconded then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 20042009, but the pair squared off in the 2009 election, which Yudhoyono won.
Both the PDI-P and Golkar, which have announced their support for Jokowi’s reelection like two other members of the ruling coalition, are proposing Kalla as a potential vice presidential candidate despite the possibility of violating the Constitution. Article 7 of the amended Constitution says “the President and Vice President take office for five years and can be reelected for the same posts only for another term”.
The message of the Constitution, amended in the wake of sweeping reforms, is actually loud and clear - it limits terms of office to just two in a show of commitment to making a complete break with the past. During the New Order and its previous regime, the political system enabled the president to rule for too long, fomenting an undemocratic government.
For the PDI-P and Golkar, the choice of Kalla is simply pragmatic. His credential as an influential Muslim figure, owing to his leadership in the Indonesian Mosque Council and affiliation to Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, is all that Jokowi needs. Kalla’s Islamic card would provide Jokowi cover amid mounting attempts to identify him as anti-Islam, as happened in the 2014 election.
The two parties have now moved to have Article 7 of the Constitution examined or ask for the Constitutional Court’s advice, knowing that amending the Constitution is unlikely. The chance that Jokowi and Kalla will team up again is therefore remote thus far, even more so if opposition from other members of the ruling coalition intensifies.
It remains to be seen how the (unnecessary) debate unfolds, but the controversy again highlights the failure of political parties to groom the young as future leaders. Regeneration is the vital issue that the parties have been unable, if not reluctant, to address.