What is Joko Widodo’s role in the Indonesian elections?

More than 100 million people will vote on Wednesday in one of the most important elections in the world. The race for the biggest prize – the Indonesian presidency – is a three-way race.

But the most important thing is someone who is not on the ballot.

That person is Joko Widodo, the incumbent president, who is not allowed to seek a third five-year term and will resign in October. A decade after Joko ran as a down-to-earth reformer and won office, he remains incredibly popular.

Many of his supporters say he has largely delivered on his promise to put Indonesia on the path to becoming a wealthy country in the coming decades, with ambitious infrastructure and welfare projects such as the plan to build a new capital and transportation system. universal health.

At the same time, Joko has also overseen what critics describe as a regression of civil liberties. He has stripped the powers of an anti-corruption agency, forced passage of a controversial labor law and, most recently, appeared to engineer the placement of one of his sons on the ballot for vice president.

Making matters worse, critics say, is the presidential candidate he appears to be backing: Prabowo Subianto, a former general who was once a rival of Joko and who is accused of committing human rights abuses when Indonesia was a dictatorship. Prabowo, whose running mate is Joko’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, has been leading in the polls.

Joko’s implicit maneuvers have led many Indonesians to do some soul-searching.

“People are now asking, ‘How much should we sacrifice for development?’” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a professor specializing in Indonesian politics at Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani in the city of Bandung.

What is at stake in this election, critics said, is the fate of a young democracy that is now the third largest in the world.

Many Indonesians have feared that a victory for Prabowo – who led a crackdown on activists in Indonesia and what is now East Timor – could return the country to its authoritarian past. Many remember the brutal and kleptocratic rule of Prabowo’s former father-in-law and boss, dictator Suharto.

“The future is bleak, terribly bleak,” said Butet Kartaredjasa, 64, an artist from the city of Yogyakarta. He said that if Prabowo won and faced protests, ordinary people would become victims of any subsequent violence.

Elections in Indonesia matter far beyond its borders. It is the fourth most populous country in the world and is of growing strategic importance to both the United States and China. As one of the world’s leading producers of coal, palm oil and nickel, it sits at the top of the supply chains of many international companies and will have a major influence on the future of the climate change crisis.

Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy and a major outlier in a region where the will of the people is often ignored. Although democracy is considered imperfect here, many Indonesians have adopted it as a way of life. Elections over the past three decades have been considered free and fair, and no one wants to return to the days of Suharto.

While Prabowo had led the three-way race, some polls suggested he would be forced to go to a runoff in June, either against Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta, or against Ganjar Pranowo, who governed Central Java. His platforms do not differ significantly, experts say, but Prabowo’s bona fides as a strongman set him apart.

Much of Joko’s support base shifted to Prabowo, 72, who vowed to continue Joko’s policies and tried to rebrand himself as a gemoy, or tender, grandfather.

“I now support Prabowo because of Jokowi,” said Rizki Safitri, 36, a Jakarta voter, referring to Joko by his nickname. “I want to ensure that Jokowi’s good programs continue and are further improved.”

Joko’s co-option of Prabowo began a few years ago, when the president appointed his former electoral rival as his defense minister.

“For our friends in the United States, it’s like Obama suddenly decided to support Trump while still supporting a Democratic program,” said Andi Widjajanto, who resigned as Joko’s strategist in October and began working for Ganjar, one of the other presidential candidates.

It is far from clear what Joko’s influence on Indonesian politics will be after he leaves office or if he wins the candidacy of Prabowo and Joko’s son Gibran. A vice president does not have much power in Indonesia, but he can take over the top job if the president dies.

“I don’t expect Prabowo to allow Jokowi to have too much influence,” said Natalie Sambhi, executive director of Verve Research, which studies the relationship between militaries and societies. “Now the question is: if Prabowo starts leading Indonesia in a different direction than Jokowi’s vision, what will happen?”

Gibran’s association with Prabowo has left many of Joko’s allies baffled. Many could not understand why a man who benefited from direct democracy now has dynastic desires. But they now recognize that Joko had started the process years ago.

His son-in-law, Bobby Nasution, mayor of Medan, is running for governor of North Sumatra. In October, Joko’s youngest son, Kaesang Pangarep, 28, joined the youth-oriented Indonesian Solidarity Party. Within two days, he became its president.

Jokowi “used to be the hope of the people; Now he is no longer a leader, but a ruler, an official who is building a dynastic policy,” said Maria Sumarsih, 71. Maria’s son was murdered by security forces in November 1998 during a student protest at his university.

Last year, Joko’s brother-in-law cast the deciding vote in the Constitutional Court’s decision to lower the age of vice-presidential candidates, allowing Gibran, 36, to join the race. An uproar ensued, but Joko doubled down on him in recent weeks, saying that “a president is allowed to endorse candidates and take sides.” The message for many was unmistakable. Next to him was Mr. Prabowo.

His statement sparked another outcry, prompting Joko to appear on YouTube holding a sign and pointing out passages in the 2017 General Election Law that state presidents can participate in campaigns. “Don’t interpret it any other way,” he said.

But legal experts said Joko was selectively citing the law, which also states that he must take leave if he wants to campaign.

Todung Mulya Lubis, who campaigned for Joko a decade ago and was Indonesia’s ambassador to Norway, said “enjoying power with all the attachments that come with it” was probably something that had changed his former boss.

“It is possible that his power will continue by proxy,” said Todung, who is advising Ganjar’s legal team. But he added: “As the leader of this pluralistic country, you should understand that democracy limits your power.”