Indonesian ministers deny misusing social aid funds to influence presidential polls

Losing candidates Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo have asked Constitutional Court to nullify Prabowo Subianto’s victory.
Arie Firdaus
Indonesian ministers deny misusing social aid funds to influence presidential polls Finance Minister Sri Mulyani testifies during the ongoing hearing of the 2024 presidential election dispute filed by losing presidential candidates Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo at the Constitutional Court in Jakarta, April 5, 2024.
Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews

Four cabinet members testified before Indonesia’s Constitutional Court on Friday to deny allegations that the government had used social aid programs to influence voters and throw the recent presidential polls to Prabowo Subianto.

The allegations, made by the runners-up in a complaint before the court, claim President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration intentionally boosted social aid to secure support for Prabowo, who serves as defense minister and who chose Jokowi’s eldest son as his running mate. Last month, the General Elections Commission declared Prabowo’s team winners of the Feb. 14 polls.

Prabowo received 58.6% of the votes, easily outdistancing Anies Baswedan, the former Jakarta governor, who received 24.9%, and Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java province who received 16.5%.

The losing candidates said the vote was marred by abuse of power and vote-buying. The pair is urging the court to disqualify Prabowo along with Vice President-elect Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and call for a new vote.

Both Anies and Ganjar presented their challenges before the court on March 27.

Anies specifically addressed what he called the misuse of social aid originally intended for public welfare, being exploited for political gains.

“Did the 2024 presidential election adhere to principles of freedom, honesty, and justice? The answer is no. What occurred was quite the opposite,” he said.

His lawyer, Bambang Widjojanto, presented a petition urging the court to annul the election results.

“The methods employed by President Jokowi to bolster candidate pair 02 (Prabowo-Gibran) resulted in numerous procedural infractions that impacted the election’s fairness,” Bambang told the judges.

Ganjar said his challenge was crucial to democracy in Indonesia.

“Our lawsuit is a commitment to maintaining sanity, ensuring that our citizens do not lose hope in our political journey,” he said.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict by April 22.

Ministers testify

On Friday, the ministers told the court that the aid increases were either unrelated to the election or a normal response to a weather phenomenon.

“The distribution of social assistance was to mitigate the impact of El Niño, which affected food production and caused price spikes, especially for rice,” said Airlangga Hartarto, coordinating minister for the economy.

“It’s a monthly program and there are no extra programs related to the election.” 

He emphasized that the assistance was intended to “maintain people’s purchasing power and mitigate the increase in poverty and the potential for an economic slowdown.”

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The panel of eight judges (right) hears testimony regarding program funding in advance of the 2024 presidential election at the Constitutional Court in Jakarta, April 5, 2024. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the social assistance funds distributed in early 2024 were approved by the House of Representatives well in advance of the election.

Sri Mulyani confirmed that the automatic adjustment policy was not used to fund the social aid programs. The policy calls for reserving 5% of the total budget allocation for each ministry and state institution to serve as contingency funds for economic uncertainties.

“The social aid budget is entirely separate and not financed by automatic adjustments,” she said, noting that the president also has operational funds allocated within the budget.

800,000 people benefitted

Muhadjir Effendy, the coordinating minister for human development and culture, said the Hopeful Family Program aid was distributed to 40 locations serving a total of 800,000 people. 

“The direct distribution of social assistance to 800,000 people by the president is unlikely to influence the national electorate,” he said, alluding to Jokowi’s custom of personally handing out assistance. 

Tri Rismaharini, the minister of social affairs, said the practice of disbursing social assistance at the beginning of the year predated her tenure.

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Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto (left), Finance Minister Sri Mulyani and Social Minister Tri Rismaharini listen to testimony during the Constitutional Court hearing in Jakarta, April 5, 2024. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

Chief Justice Suhartoyo and seven other judges heard the complaint while Judge Anwar Usman, who is Jokowi’s relative by marriage, did not.

Anwar was demoted from chief justice in November 2023 because of ethics breaches related to his decision to alter the age criteria for presidential and vice presidential candidates. The decision paved the way for Jokowi’s eldest son, Gibran, to run for vice president on Prabowo’s ticket.

Anwar was allowed to remain on the bench but was barred from hearing any election dispute proceedings.

Siti Zuhro, a political analyst at the National Research and Innovation Agency, criticized the ministers’ testimony.

“The ministers should have explained more clearly what the difference is when social assistance is given during elections or when there are no elections,” she said.

Meanwhile, Usman Hamid, a spokesman for the Civil Society Coalition for Democracy and Against Corruption, urged the court to summon the president before deciding on the case. 

“Jokowi’s testimony is vital because this can only be revealed in full if the president is asked for information,” he said.


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