“Indonesia’s Second Presidential Debate 2019: Data Driven vs Rhetorical Nationalism” by Aninda Dewayanti

2019/20, 26 February 2019

On Sunday, 17 February 2019, Indonesia’s presidential candidates, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and Prabowo Subianto, pitched their visions for infrastructure, energy, food, natural resources, and the environment during the second presidential debate. While strong nationalist narratives on the economy persisted, this debate appeared more substantial than the first.

To begin, Jokowi emphasized his achievements in developing infrastructure, which had been the primary policy focus of his administration and the legacy that he wanted to leave. Prabowo criticized the government’s approach to infrastructure, accusing the government of delays and inefficiencies, and that Indonesia continued to lag behind other countries.

Land ownership and land conflicts emerged as a controversial topic in this debate. For example, Jokowi questioned Prabowo about his ownership of over 400,000 hectares of land in Aceh and Kalimantan, to make a point about how land distribution had favored wealthy elites. Prabowo defended himself as a patriot as he had saved the land from foreign owners. He then criticized Jokowi’s land reform policy for perpetuating the scarcity of land — an unsurprising move considering that Prabowo’s manifesto since 2010 had called for state ownership to deal with such concerns. However, Jokowi defended his distribution of land certificates on the grounds that the policy aimed to give small land holders access to investments.

Prabowo faltered when it came to the issue of Indonesia’s digital economy, as he did not seem to be familiar with what “unicorn” referred to (the term refers to a startup with a valuation of US$1 billion). There are four unicorns in Indonesia to date, namely, Go-Jek, Tokopedia, Traveloka and Bukalapak. When Jokowi pushed him and asked for his vision on infrastructure to support the unicorns, Prabowo reverted to his manifesto’s economic nationalism theme. Notably, he mentioned that with the overseas expansion of home-grown Indonesian unicorns, capital outflows and in turn, higher economic inequality, would be imminent in the country. However, it can also be argued that the expansion of these unicorns may attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and therefore have a positive impact on job creation among urban millennials. Although the millennials might not be interested in Prabowo’s economic nationalism discourse, this narrative might still have some traction among Indonesians because it was easy to understand.

There were some glaring omissions in the issues debated. Neither in 2014 nor 2019 did the candidates mention climate change or propose plans for Indonesia to reduce its carbon emissions. Where energy is concerned, neither candidate raised the issue of the shortage of electricity across the archipelago.

Overall, Jokowi appeared to have outperformed Prabowo in terms of his grasp of hard data and policies. On the other hand, Prabowo had continued to catch public attention with his consistent nationalist rhetoric. Social media traffic in the aftermath of the debate seemed to have revolved around fake news and hoaxes instead of generating related policy discussions.

Ms Aninda Dewayanti is Research Officer with the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.