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Indonesian students to demand president remain neutral ahead of poll

Indonesian students to demand president remain neutral ahead of poll
Indonesian President Joko Widodo meets with US President Joe Biden (not pictured) for talks on regional security and clean-energy transition, among other things, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, Nov 13, 2023.
PHOTO: Reuters file

JAKARTA — Hundreds of Indonesian students were set to protest on Wednesday (Feb 7) against outgoing President Joko Widodo's perceived interference in the Feb 14 election to replace the leader of the world's third-largest democracy, an organiser said.

Just a week out from the poll, up to 2,000 students from several universities are expected to join a rally in the centre of the capital Jakarta, calling for Jokowi, as the popular president is known, to remain neutral in the hotly contested race.

Although he has not explicitly endorsed any candidate, Jokowi has made highly publicised appearances with frontrunner Prabowo Subianto whose running mate is the president's eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Jokowi has faced mounting allegations of ethical breaches and meddling in the election, especially after a top court tweaked eligibility rules in October, allowing Gibran to run.

"We want to make the public aware that Joko Widodo is the main actor behind the unfair election," said student activist and protest organiser Tegar Afriansyah, adding he hoped similar protests would be held across the country.

"We are done with the president's intervention in the 2024 election especially to help a human rights criminal win the election," he said. He was referring to allegations of past human rights abuses made against ex-special forces commander Prabowo, who has denied them.

Jokowi sought to reassure citizens on Wednesday, saying he would not join any campaign events in the run-up to voting day.

"By law, the president is allowed to join any campaign. But if the question is whether or not I'll campaign, the answer is, I will not campaign," he said.

Students can be a formidable political force in Indonesia. Among Wednesday's protesters are activists from Jakarta's Trisakti University, where in 1998 four students were shot dead and dozens were injured, triggering riots and national scale protests that ultimately brought down former authoritarian leader Suharto.

The rally comes after academics from dozens of universities last week held a press conference to raise concerns over Indonesia's democratic decline and urge Jokowi and state officials to remain neutral in the run-up to the election.

Prabowo maintains a solid lead over rivals, ex-Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and ex-Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, according to latest opinion surveys.

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