“The Fourth Debate for Indonesia’s Presidential Election 2019: Who’s a True Defender of the Nation?” by Budi Irawanto

2019/35, 3 April 2019

The incumbent president Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and challenger Prabowo Subianto re-matched in the fourth televised presidential debate on 30 March 2019. Tackling the highly political issues of ideology, governance, national defence and security, and foreign affairs, the televised debate was expected to show the candidates’ vision and their proposed policies in navigating uncertain socio-political circumstances at the regional and global levels.

Both presidential candidates expressed their high commitment to defend Indonesian national ideology (Pancasila) from any party that intends to change it with other ideologies. Not surprisingly, Prabowo and Jokowi were seeking to rebut the respective smear campaigns. While Prabowo firmly stated that he did not support the ‘khilafah’ (Islamic caliphate) ideology, Jokowi dismissed an acsussation of he was a member of  the long defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Both ‘khilafah’ ideology  and communism run counter against the Pancasila ideology.

Issue of national defence and security seemingly became the main platform for Jokowi and Prabowo to highlight their patriotic and nationalist stance, although they tended to delve on traditional security issues. Prabowo promised to allocate more budgets for primary weaponry defence system (alutsista), while Jokowi emphasized the importance of new investment in national defence industry as a strategy for technology transfer while fulfilling defence requirement under a limited budget. He also claimed that his government has continuously protected Indonesian sovereignty and borders against foreign invaders by conducting military exercise (gelar pasukan) in the outer islands of Indonesia such as Natuna, Biak, Morotai and Saumlaki.

To challenge Jokowi’s claim that his government has allocated Rp107 trillion (S$10.2 billion) for defence budget, Prabowo repeatedly asserted the vulnerability of Indonesian national defence and security. He challenged Jokowi’s statement by blaming the weakness of Indonesia’s military due to the limited budget for defence that the government has given compared to that of the neighbouring countries.  Prabowo’s narrative echoed his gloomy prediction about the country’s future, which he thought could fall apart by 2030 and could go ‘extinct’ (punah) if he did not prevail over Jokowi in the election.

There was a lack of debate on the Indonesian foreign policy, particularly Indonesia’s response to the rising power of China both at the regional and global levels. Jokowi raised the issue of the Rakhine refugees in Myanmar and he highlighted the role of Indonesia as a mediator in the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees. He claimed that Indonesia as a big Muslim-majority country in the world and member of ASEAN has played a crucial role in this crisis. While acknowledging the role of Indonesia as mediator for Rohingya refugees, Prabowo criticized the Indonesian diplomat merely acting as a ‘nice guy’ for not pushing enough to fight for Indonesia’s national interest, which he did not elaborate further. It seemed that Prabowo wanted to play down the role of diplomacy, while projecting his firm leadership in international relations if he gets elected.  According to Political Wave’s monitor, after the debate, Jokowi gained more positive sentiments on social media conversations than Prabowo. The social media users praised Jokowi’s idea to use technology to implement his programmes (including on the national defence). Meanwhile, they criticized the tendency of Prabowo to instigate ‘war’ and disparaging the capability of the Indonesian military (TNI).
The last televised presidential debate will be held on 13 April 2019 taking the economic issues, social welfare, monetary and investment. This could be a promising and intense debate since economy has been a hot button issue at campaigns for both pairs of presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The last televised debate would also be a showdown for the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair to convince voters about their proposed economic policies, while encouraging voters to make a referendum on Jokowi’s economic policies during his term by casting their votes on 17 April 2019.

Dr Budi Irawanto is Visiting Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme at 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.