Indonesia students rally against mooted move to extend president's term

Indonesia students rally against mooted move to extend president's term
Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview in Bebatu, near Tarakan, North Kalimantan province, Indonesia, on Oct 19, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

JAKARTA — Students protested in Indonesia on Monday (April 11) over high cooking oil prices and a mooted extension of President Joko Widodo's stay in office, despite attempts by the popular leader to dampen speculation of a plan being hatched to keep him in power longer.

Demonstrations took place in several parts of Indonesia, including South Sulawesi, West Java and the capital Jakarta, where hundreds of students wearing neon jackets marched towards parliament to complain about rising goods costs and the prospect of the president outstaying his two-term limit.

The idea of a term extension for Jokowi, as the president is known, either by changing the constitution or delaying the 2024 election, has gained momentum lately in the world's third-largest democracy after some influential political figures publicly backed it.

On Sunday, for a second time in under a week, Jokowi, 60, urged ministers and security chiefs to cease discussion of the issue and said it was clear that an election would be held in February 2024, as planned.

"Don't let there be speculation among the public that the government is trying to delay the election or speculate on extending the presidential term or anything related to a third term," he told a meeting.

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The idea of allowing more than the maximum two, five-year terms as president has fuelled concern about a threat to hard-won democratic reforms. 

Students have traditionally been at the forefront of efforts to protect Indonesia's democratic gains, after taking to the streets in 1998 during huge protests that helped topple former strongman President Suharto.

Jokowi has retained a high approval rating since he was first elected in 2014, but a recent survey by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) showed more than 70 per cent of Indonesians reject the extension plan.

He has been criticised for his ambiguous stance on the issue, calling it a slap in the face and just "an idea", but without explicitly rejecting it or ruling out staying in power longer.

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