The President's hand behind the debate on postponing the 2024 elections

CNN Indonesia – March 2, 2022
President Widodo (at head of table) chairing cabinet meeting – Undated (Antara)

Rivana Pratiwi, Jakarta – Four key National Awakening Party (PAN) officials visited the official residence of party General Chairperson Zulkifli Hasan at the Widya Chandra complex in Jakarta on February 13. At the direction of a coordinating minister in the Indonesia Onward Cabinet, they had been invited to discuss a very serious topic – the postponement of the 2024 elections.

A long dining table was chosen. The host and the guests sat facing each other. The guest arranged the seats as comfortably as possible. They did not want anything to disrupt this very important discussion.

Minister asks for postponement

According to a CNN Indonesia source, during the discussion with the PAN senior officials, Hasan related how not long ago he had a meeting with Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.

Hasan claimed he was invited by Pandjaitan to specifically discuss the proposal of postponing the 2024 legislative and presidential elections. Pandjaitan asked PAN to support this and that it must be conveyed to the public by the general chairperson during a PAN election campaign national coordinating meeting, which was to be held on February 15.

Panjaitan claimed that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had already agreed to this.

Hasan then sought the views of the party elite. One of the senior PAN officials who was present at the meeting explained that Hasan asked if it would be appropriate for PAN became the first political party to raise the idea of postponing the elections during the upcoming national coordinating meeting.

All of the PAN officials present at Hasan's home agreed not to rush into making such a proposal and that it needed to be discussed further with other party board members.

Hasan has confirmed the meeting with Pandjaitan with CNN Indonesia but was reluctant to go into more detail. "I normally communicate with Pak [Mr] Luhut", he said speaking at the House of Representatives (DPR) in Jakarta on Friday February 25.

A week later on February 23, the PAN leadership again held a meeting. This time, it was held at a restaurant owned by the son of PAN Honorary Board Chairperson Soetrisno Bahir in the Senayan area of South Jakarta.

One of the PAN leaders who attended related how in the middle of the meeting Hasan asked permission to leave because he had go to an unscheduled meeting with Golkar Party General Chairperson Airlangga Hartarto.

Hasan then returned and related the results of his discussion with Hartarto to the PAN leaders who were still at the restaurant. Hartarto, said Hasan, explicitly declared Golkar's support for postponing the 2024 elections and would convey this during a working visit to Riau on February 24.

Hartarto also asked Hasan to immediately speak out openly in the name of PAN in support of the idea. Hartarto even confirmed that President Widodo had instructed him to promote the idea of postponing the elections.

When sought for confirmation, Hasan admitted to having a discussion with Hartarto on postponing the 2024 elections. "I communicated with Pak Airlangga, but there was no pre-planned subject that the three of us discussed, yeah", he said.

PAN leaders agree

One by one, the PAN leaders who were at the restaurant expressed their views on the proposal to postpone the elections. One of those who objected was former PAN General Chairperson Hatta Rajasa.

Still according to the CNN Indonesia source, Bogor Mayor Bima Arya questioned the legal grounds for such a postponement. Hasan however was adamant, if a political agreement can be reached than a way to postpone the elections would be found.

When sought for confirmation, Arya did not deny taking such a position at the meeting, but was reluctant to explain in more detail.

"At the time we discussed various kinds of surveys on PAN but one of the agenda items was on the proposal to postpone the elections", he said when contacted by CNN Indonesia.

Meanwhile, PAN Central Leadership Board Election Campaign Division Chairperson Yandri Susanto has confirmed that a mutual agreement was reached on the postponement.

"The proposal to postpone the elections has been fully discussed, talked about and decided on by the party internally" he said.

Then on February 25, just before Friday prayers, Hasan along with several other PAN leaders held a press conference at the DPR in which Hasan explicitly conveyed PAN's official position that the 2024 elections should be postponed.

The government's hand

One of CNN Indonesia's sources from within government circles stated that efforts to postpone the elections have actually being going on for some time and it was not just a recent thing.

The reason for this is that there are several government programs which are not yet complete as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of these is the project to move the national capital to East Kalimantan.

The mission to raise the issue of postponing the 2024 elections is also based on big data from millions of social media discussions. It is claimed that many, even the majority of social media users, support President Widodo serving a third term in office.

It was only following this that a plan was put in place on which political party figure needs to speak about the issue in public. Investment Minister Bahlil Lahadalia had already conveyed the proposal on January 10 when he claimed the idea was based on the wishes of the business community.

This was then followed by National Awakening Party (PKB) General Chairperson Muhaimin Iskandar, Zulkifli Hasan and Airlangga Hartarto. According to a CNN Indonesia source, all of the directives to the political parties on the issue originated from Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.

Pandjaitan's spokesperson Jodi Mahardi has since spoken out claiming that Pandjaitan often meets with political figures. But he denied that the proposal to postpone the 2024 elections was designed by Pandjaitan.

"Pak Luhut often meets with various political figures. This is perhaps done by Pak Luhut to brief them on the latest developments. But as far as I know there has been no discussion on or the idea of an extension [of Widodo's term] and it did not come from Pak Luhut", he told CNN Indonesia.

Mahardi explained that Pandjaitan's meetings with senior political party leaders are something quite normal. Aside from having friendly get togethers with the government coalition parties, said Mahardi, Pandjaitan is also open to discussions with the opposition parties.

"Pak Luhut monitors the developing aspirations in society but as to what his position is on this issue I don't know", said Mahardi. (bmw)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Tangan Pemerintah di Balik Desain Tunda Pemilu 2024".]