“The Final Presidential Debate: Will Jokowi Win the Economic Referendum?” by Siwage Dharma Negara

2019/36, 15 April 2019

On Saturday, 13 April 2019, the Indonesian presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin and Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno, engaged in a final televised debate on the themes of economics and social welfare, finance and investment, and trade and industry.

Arguably, this debate demonstrated a more substantive exchange of ideas and solutions for economic problems facing the country. Prabowo continued with his nationalist narrative, pledging to regain control over foreign businesses, while Sandiaga promoted his idea of creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurship that would support the participation of millennials and women in business. Meanwhile, both Jokowi and Ma’ruf showcased the government’s achievements in developing infrastructure and various social programmes to reduce unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Prabowo started the debate by arguing that the country had been heading in the wrong direction with a development strategy that had failed to bring real welfare to the people. He added that Indonesia’s economic policies had deviated from the goals outlined in the constitution, such that significant economic resources were flowing out of the country. And while other countries are industrializing, Indonesia is experiencing de-industrialization and relying on imported goods. He reiterated that it was time for Indonesia to escape the 5 per cent growth trap.

Countering Prabowo, Jokowi argued that his administration had been bringing Indonesia back onto its development track by ensuring that growth takes place with social equity. His administration had been focusing on infrastructure building all over the archipelago, aiming to promote new economic centres outside Java. Moreover, Jokowi added that his administration had regained control over natural resources, for example, by taking over the oil and gas bloc in Mahakam, Rokan, and the mining bloc in Freeport.
In response to Sandiaga’s comment that Indonesia’s Islamic economy was not competitive, Ma’ruf said that Indonesia’s sharia economy was doing well. He argued that Indonesian sukuk products (or sharia bonds) were the largest in the world, and projected that Indonesia’s Islamic banking, capital and insurance markets would become the largest in the world and that Indonesian halal products would go global. To push towards these goals, the government would establish a shariah economic development body.

Challenging Jokowi’s policy of introducing various social service programme cards, Sandiaga proposed the introduction of a multi-function identity card called the “e-KTP”, which will have a single identification number system to integrate personal data. Sandiaga argued that with the industrial revolution 4.0 and information technology advancements, social services could be provided to the public more efficiently through the “e-KTP”.

Sandiaga also questioned the rationale behind Jokowi’s policy of creating a holding company for aviation-related state-owned enterprises (Badan Usaha Milik Negara or BUMN). Jokowi replied that the establishment of such a holding company would help improve efficiency in the BUMN, encourage capital injection from the private sector and allow BUMN to engage in lucrative investments overseas, which in turn could become a locomotive of growth for Indonesia. Disagreeing with Jokowi, Prabowo cited a Bloomberg study that showed that Garuda, the national carrier, was managed poorly, and argued that it was more important to reform the management of BUMN instead.

In closing, Jokowi encouraged Indonesians to be optimistic in the face of challenges, to use their voting rights and to continue maintaining national unity. Prabowo thanked his supporters, in particular, the Ijtima Ulama and “emak-emak” (women’s groups), while Sandiaga promised a clean and strong government if Indonesians were to choose them on polling day.

Dr Siwage Dharma Negara is Senior Fellow and Co-Coordinator in the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

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