Indonesian President’s younger son gears up for mayoral race in opposition stronghold

Indonesian President Joko Widodo's youngest son Kaesang Pangarep has never officially declared his intention to run. PHOTO: DEPOK.HALLO

JAKARTA – Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s younger son and social media celebrity Kaesang Pangarep has been widely seen as gearing up to join a mayoral race next year in an opposition party’s stronghold, in a sign of a shift towards stronger pluralism. 

A photograph of the 28-year-old businessman holding a red rose first appeared last month on billboards erected by the pro-pluralism Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) on the busy streets in Depok, promoting him for the mayorship.

The past four office terms have been filled by a cadre from the opposition Islamic-leaning Justice and Prosperous Party (PKS).  

Mr Kaesang has never officially declared his intention to run, but when asked by reporters about the billboards, he admitted that he supplied the photo used.  

A few weeks later, the humorous recently married man, who has a 3.2-million following on Twitter, posted a video declaring that his family has given him permission to run for mayor. He said he is “ready to be in Depok and become Depok First”.  

Observers, including noted political analyst Effendi Gazali, said there are enough signs that Mr Kaesang is going to run for mayor of Depok, a satellite town to Jakarta with a population of 2.5 million.

“Depok is a less tolerant city... The rose in Kaesang’s hand conveys to young voters that they would be able to freely celebrate Valentine’s Day if he is elected. The number of people in Depok who want to celebrate Valentine’s Day is significant,” Dr Effendi said. 

The Depok administration issued a circular on Feb 9, 2023, instructing teachers and faculty members to ban their students from celebrating Valentine’s Day as it is against local religious, social and cultural norms.  

Mr Jayadi Bray, chairman of Depok’s official youth organisation, Karang Taruna, said people might have first thought Mr Kaesang was not serious about running in Depok. But since the idea was well received by the grassroots, Mr Kaesang went ahead with it.  

“The past four (mayoral) terms may have been good but we want better. Why not have change?” Mr Jayadi told The Straits Times. He stressed that Depok’s next leader must pay greater attention to youth welfare.

Each office term lasts five years.  

Jumping on the bandwagon, the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and coalition partner Gerindra party have separately issued pledges to back Mr Kaesang as Depok mayor, saying that young, promising politicians must be given room to grow.  

Responding to this, PKS spokesman Muhammad Kholid said: “We support young leaders, but only those who have good track records, not those who merely have the privilege of being a president’s son.” 

He took issue with Mr Kaesang’s zero experience in politics, boasting that PKS has lined up a number of potential candidates aged between 30 and 35 who have had years of experience. 

“Depok has ranked among the top five Indonesian cities which have performed the best in poverty eradication. We have had a successful entrepreneurship programme for women, for anyone,” said Mr Kholid, referring to incumbent mayor Mohammad Idris’ achievements.

Ms Cheryl Tanzil, who sits on PSI’s board of leaders, defended Mr Kaesang, noting that he had expanded his companies – which include those in the food and investment sectors – showing that he has strong leadership and managerial skills, traits which are required of a mayor. 

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