Indonesia Elections 2024: No first lady? Frontrunner Prabowo’s single status turns spotlight on ‘state’s mother’ role

Indonesia Elections 2024: No first lady? Frontrunner Prabowo’s single status turns spotlight on ‘state’s mother’ role

Mdm Ainun Habibie, wife of third president BJ Habibie who was in power for just over a year, served as the chairwoman of the non-profit organisation Indonesian eye bank.

Wife of Indonesia’s fourth president Abdurrahman Wahid, Mdm Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, is an active advocate of religious and racial pluralism.

When the country was led by fifth president Megawati Soekarnoputri between 2001 to 2004, Indonesia did not have a first lady but a first man, or “bapak negara” in Indonesian, which means the state’s father or man. 

Her politician husband Mr Taufiq Kiemas was by Megawati’s side when she established current ruling party the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in the late 90s. Like first ladies before him, he accompanied her during bilateral meetings, and was widely well-perceived by the public. 

He became the speaker of the people’s consultative assembly a few years after Mdm Megawati stepped down from power.

Mdm Ani Yudhoyono was concerned about children’s education and had a fondness for photography. She established Mobil Pintar or smart car, a mobile library for children.

Mdm Iriana Joko Widodo, wife of outgoing president Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, has largely been in the background during her husband’s two-term leadership.

However, in November 2023, local investigative media outlet Tempo reported that Mdm Iriana masterminded the vice-presidential candidacy of her son Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is now Mr Prabowo’s running mate.  

Mr Gibran, 36, was initially too young to run as the law stipulated a candidate must be at least 40 years old. But a constitutional court ruling headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, Mr Anwar Usman, expanded the candidacy requirements for presidential and vice presidential hopefuls, making it eligible for Mr Gibran to run.

Local media has sought clarification, but Mdm Iriana has remained tight-lipped. 

Though every first lady is unique, one thing that unites them is they tend to be a supporting figure on the sidelines, according to Mr Yoes. 

He opined only Mdm Tien has had a strong active role in Indonesia’s history.

“She was full of controversies as some questioned her activities even though she was also active in promoting an integrated healthcare centre for children,” said Mr Yoes about Mdm Tien’s 29 years as first lady. She passed away in 1996 during her husband’s presidency. 

Her husband Suharto ruled with an iron fist for more than 30 years between 1967 to 1998. He resigned after violent nationwide protests demanded he step down. 

Mdm Tien was linked to scandal regarding the use of state funds for social and humanitarian projects controlled by their family during her husband’s presidency.