Sidebar comments on the Second Presidential Debate: Unicorn

Rizaldy D. Priambodo
ITB alumni/Researcher

“What infrastructure are you going to build to support the development of Indonesian unicorns?” Segment 5, a question from Presidential Candidate 01 to Presidential Candidate 02.

Hearing the question, my instincts immediately brought me back to the Debate back in 2014. At the time, Pak Jokowi gave the question, “What do you think about the Regional Inflation Control Team (Tim Pengendali Inflasi Daerah – “TPID”)?”

Yes, the incumbent does have a track record of attacking and even attempting to humiliate his debate opponents using technical terms and unusual abbreviations. The purpose is so when his opponent fails to decipher an abbreviation, Jokowi’s supporters will laugh at them. This will weaken the debate opponent’s morale, as well that of the opponent’s supporters. How inelegant.

Therefore, Pak Prabowo confirmed to the questioner, “Do you mean the ‘unicorns’ that are online?” The incumbent’s supporters then cheered, thinking that their master succeeded in humiliating his opponent.

That was not the case at all. Pak Prabowo calmly explained his fear that granting special facilities to these unicorns would accelerate the outflow of the nation’s wealth abroad. The incumbent then responded smugly, as if he had a superior understanding of concepts than that of his opponent. He proudly stated that the Government must create infrastructure that would support the development of these unicorns.

I became aware of one thing here: the difference of strategy relating to online IT industry might determine whether our online IT industry will remain sovereign or will be handed over to foreigners. What the incumbent says is very dangerous. If it’s true that the Government will build special facilities to support unicorns, Indonesia might be demoted into standing by as a mere observer of the IT industry.

A “unicorn” is an online IT startup valued more than USD 1 billion. Currently, there are 4 unicorn IT startups in Indonesia: Gojek, Traveloka, Tokopedia, and Bukalapak. For your information, of these four startups, only Bukalapak is still purely owned by Indonesians. The rest are coopted by foreign investors. This means that all profits from their trade in Indonesia will flow out of the country.

Therefore, if the Government builds infrastructure to support these unicorns, our nation’s wealth will flow out of the country even faster. The potential for State income would decrease. This is dangerous. The correct step is for the Government to encourage the establishment of new startups that can grow into new unicorns later, and to keep them from the clutches of foreign investors. The Government must facilitate new innovations through incubation centers. This is what our Government has not managed to do even now. And if we check the vision and mission of Presidential Candidate 02, we will find a point on “to encourage the development of digital startups”.

Therefore, Pak Prabowo’s response was correct: we need to be careful when responding to this development. If we are not careful, more and more of our wealth will be taken out.

In conclusion, the question that the incumbent has prepared to trap Pak Prabowo ended up exposing his own bad side: his partiality towards conglomerates instead of to the new innovative startups that actually have unlimited potential.

Which one should lead us then? The Presidential Candidate with a partiality towards conglomerates, or the Presidential Candidate who is partial to the interests and sovereignty of his country? Let your own hearts answer that.