An Indonesian court has made a controversial exception allowing the eldest son of outgoing President Joko Widodo to run for vice-president in the 2024 election.
In a decision that outraged critics of the president, the constitutional court ruled that candidates under the required age of 40 can seek the presidency or vice-presidency in the 14 February ballot provided they have previously held elected regional office.
The decision bolsters speculation that Indonesia’s president of nearly 10 years, who is popularly known as Jokowi, is acting to retain influence by backing the defence minister Prabowo Subianto as his successor, with his eldest son and Surakarta city mayor, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, as running mate.
Deciding on a petition that challenged the minimum age for running for the presidency and vice-presidency, Judge M Guntur Hamzah, while not setting aside the age restriction in all cases, said it would be an “injustice” against younger Indonesians with experience in government posts.
“A minimum age of 40 not only hampers but hinders the development of the young generation,” he said, noting leaders of France and New Zealand both rose to the top jobs in their 30s.
The age restriction is part of Indonesia’s “Law number 7 of 2017” which regulates elections.
The ruling three days out from registration for the 2014 election could deepen concern about the perceived influence of Jokowi over Indonesia’s democratic institutions, including potentially his brother-in-law Anwar Usman’s role as the court’s chief justice.
A court spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Anwar had any involvement in the ruling or not, or on the perception that he could have.
Gibran has yet to publicly declare an intention to run for vice-president and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court’s decision.
An entrenchment of patronage and dynastic politics would be at odds with the democratic reforms the world’s third-largest democracy has achieved since the end of the rule of nepotistic strongman Suharto a quarter of a century ago, some analysts say.
The hugely popular Jokowi, who is not allowed to run for a third term, is keen to preserve his legacy after ushering in a series of economic reforms and a major push to attract big-ticket investment to south-east Asia’s biggest economy.
In a video on his office’s YouTube channel, Jokowi said he would not comment on the court ruling for risk of it being misconstrued as judicial interference.
Asked whether his son would run for vice-president, he said: “I’d like to emphasise, I do not get in the middle of the business of presidential or vice-presidential candidates.”
Jokowi has not formally backed Prabowo and last week brushed off a question about whether he was seeking to create a political dynasty.
Prabowo, a former special forces commander and Jokowi’s rival in presidential races in 2014 and 2019, is neck-and-neck in opinion polls for the top job with the Central Java Governor, Ganjar Pranowo, while ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan is a distant third.
In an opinion piece on Monday in the Jakarta Post published before the court ruling, Ary Hermawan, its editor at large, said the court’s decision could have a wide-reaching impact.
“Concerns have been raised over whether the constitutional court can truly function as an impartial referee in the political race,” Hermawan wrote. “We are entering uncharted territory here.”