Indonesia govt halts country-wide rice distribution after allegations of Jokowi politicising social aid

Jokowi has denied allegations of politicising social assistance.

Fiona Tan | February 09, 2024, 08:26 PM



The Indonesian government will not be handing out rice aid in the days leading up to the 2024 Indonesian presidential election, to prove that social assistance is not being used to sway voters.

This comes in the wake of allegations that the incumbent President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is using social assistance (Bansos) as a tool to garner votes for presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and his running mate, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

The twice-elected Jokowi, who will be stepping down in October 2024 as Indonesia has a two-term limit, has not explicitly endorsed any of the three presidential candidates, but many believe he is leaning towards Prabowo.

Questions over social assistance in a campaign season

In question is Jokowi's alleged use of social assistance to influence the election.

While the Indonesian government has increased the budget allocations for various forms of social assistance since November 2023, Jokowi personally ordered a "last-minute" "automatic adjustment" in February 2024.

He reallocated IDR50 trillion (S$4.3 billion) from the 2024 state budget to go towards social assistance and buffer against the "potential impacts of geopolitical risk."

This is on top of the IDR496.8 trillion (S$42.8 billion) budget already set aside for social assistance for 2024.

The Jakarta Post reported that Jokowi went on an "extensive" tour across Java distributing assistance in the form of rice, cooking oil and other food items in the past two months, which coincided with the election campaign season.

Since a presidential candidate needs more than 50 per cent of votes cast overall and at least 20 per cent of votes in more than half the country's provinces to win, Java could be the key to winning the election, as the island contains more than half of Indonesia’s total eligible voters.

Seemingly following Jokowi's lead, Coordinating Economics Minister Airlangga Hartarto and Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan, both of whom are part of the coalition supporting Prabowo-Gibran, have also been distributing social assistance.

Photos of a bag of rice aid featuring a Prabowo-Gibran sticker emerged and went viral on social media in end-January 2024, kicking allegations about the politicisation of social assistance into overdrive.

Indonesian authorities swiftly denied placing the sticker on the rice, with one claiming that "it is very easy" to get the same rice elsewhere.

Jokowi, on his part, has denied allegations of politicising social assistance to benefit the Prabowo-Gibran candidate pair on Feb. 2.

Rice aid put on hold

While Jokowi may not have explicitly encouraged people to vote for Prabowo-Gibran during his Java tour, his recent comments and actions, taken altogether, have set tongues wagging about the intentions behind his distribution of social assistance during the campaign season.

To quash any allegations of Jokowi abusing social assistance, Indonesian authorities announced on Feb. 8 that rice aid distribution across the country would be put on hold immediately to "respect the general election process and to update data".

Distribution will resume after six days on Feb. 15, the day after the 2024 Indonesia presidential election.

On Feb. 7, senior minister and Jokowi loyalist Luhut Pandjaitan defended the incumbent president and denied allegations of Jokowi's interference.

He said that Jokowi was backing Prabowo, as he is most likely to continue Jokowi's policies.

Indikator Politik released a survey on Feb. 9 showing Prabowo leading the polls with 51.8 per cent of votes. Trailing behind are his rivals Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo with 24.1 per cent and 19.6 per cent respectively.

Controversy plaguing Jokowi

To complicate matters, Prabowo's running mate, Gibran, is none other than Jokowi's eldest son, whose candidature for the vice presidency in itself was fraught with controversy.

The 38-year-old mayor of Surakarta only became eligible after the Constitutional Court ruled that candidates did not need to meet the minimum age of 40, on the condition that they have previously held an elected regional office.

Following the ruling, Chief Justice Anwar Usman, who happens to be Jokowi's brother-in-law, was demoted for a "serious ethical violation".

Jokowi, who was heavily criticised for allegedly having a hand in the ruling, said he was not creating a "political dynasty".

He has also continued to deny that he is campaigning for Prabowo-Gibran.

Questions of neutrality

However, Jokowi's recent behaviour, such as publicly hanging out with Prabowo, and a series of questionable comments, such as "a president can pick a side" and "yes, we'll see later" when asked if he will be campaigning for any of the presidential candidates, have cast doubt on his neutrality.

Under Indonesia's law, sitting presidents, vice presidents and other state officials are allowed to engage in campaign activities, but are prohibited from using state facilities and are required to take an unpaid leave of absence when participating in such political activities.

Amidst mounting criticism, Jokowi finally said on Feb. 7 that he would not join any campaign events in the run-up to voting day.

However, this appears to be too little, too late as hundreds of students marched in Jakarta on the same day to protest what they perceive as Jokowi's political interference.

This came after growing calls for Jokowi to take a leave of absence to campaign for Prabowo-Gibran, The Jakarta Post reported on Jan. 29.

2024 Indonesia elections

Indonesians will go to the polls on Feb. 14.

Besides voting for their next president and vice president, they will also be electing their next national, provincial and regency lawmakers, and regional senator.

While unofficial results will be released within 24 hours of voting, the finalised results will only be announced 35 days later at the earliest, Reuters reported.

If no candidate achieves more than 50 per cent of votes cast overall and at least 20 per cent of votes in more than half the country's provinces, a run-off presidential election will be held in June between the two candidates with the most votes.

Get up to speed with the 2024 Indonesia Election

@mothershipsg A guide to Indonesia's presidential candidates: Anies Baswedan. The former governor of Jakarta will stand in the general elections on Feb. 14, 2024 as an independent candidate backed by Coalition of Change for Unity (KPP). #tiktoksg #indonesia #sgnews ♬ original sound - Mothership

@mothershipsg A guide to Indonesia's presidential candidates: Prabowo Subianto. The former general will stand in the general elections on Feb. 14, 2024 as the candidate for the Gerindra party. #tiktokindonesia #worldnews #tiktoksg #sgnews ♬ original sound - Mothership

@mothershipsg A guide to Indonesia's presidential candidates: Ganjar Pranowo. The former governor of Central Java will stand in the general elections on Feb. 14, 2024 as the candidate for the PDI-P party. #indonesia #tiktoksg #sgnews #LearnOnTikTok ♬ original sound - Mothership

Top image from @Jokowi/Instagram and @Ndons_BaCk/X, formerly Twitter