The Prabowo-Sandiaga – Jokowi-Ma’ruf Face-off: New Hope vs Unfulfilled Promises

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(illustration: IO/Agung)

IO, Jakarta – 9 August 2018 was selected as the appropriate time to announce the Candidate for Vice President, both for incumbent and challenger. Joko Widodo (Jokowi) announced his appointment of the Chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia – “MUI”), K.H. Ma’ruf Amin, as his Candidate Vice President at Plataran Restaurant, Menteng, Central Jakarta. His challenger, Prabowo Subianto, announced his Candidate Vice President at home, i.e. Jalan Kertanegara IV, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. Before the elites of the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerakan Indonesia Raya – “Gerindra”) Party, the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional – “PAN”), and the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera – “PKS”), Prabowo declared Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno to be his Candidate Vice President. The Indonesian people now have two Presidential and Vice-Presidential Candidate pairs to choose from, as they compete in the upcoming Presidential Elections on 19 April 2019.

Let us start with a brief review of the two pairs. First, the incumbent, who is currently being criticized heavily for allowing our economic condition to degenerate into such a mess, starting from a sunken exchange rate for the Rupiah, a growth rate that never exceeded 5% within 4 years, skyrocketing prices of basic necessities, weakening buying power, fewer job opportunities, falling exports and continuously rising foreign debt.

In terms of the economy, Jokowi’s sole achievement is to successfully exert control over inflation. Only one target of the 2015-2019 National Medium-Term Development Plan (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah Nasional – “RPJMN” has been realized as of mid-2018 (control of inflation rate), and one nearly achieved (reduction of unemployment rate). 13 other targets are far from being achieved, and some, such as the debt-to-GDP ratio, budget deficit, foreign reserves, and Rupiah exchange rate against foreign currencies, were even poorer than the results achieved by previous governments.

During his tenure as the President of RI, Jokowi’s biggest achievement has been the construction of infrastructure. However, Jokowi’s Government constructed toll roads and airports on such massive scale that he was forced to take on equally massive debts to finance them. Yet even these amounts are insufficient, so that Jokowi had to stop, or at least delay several of his infrastructure projects. He also had to stop or delay projects because they caused casualties and injuries, both among construction workers and the surrounding populace.

This unstable economic condition presents a great opportunity for the challengers, Prabowo-Sandiaga. This realization pushes them to create a work program focusing on economic development. For that purpose, they are building a strong government and economic independence, especially in terms of price stability. They are seeking to establish social justice for all Indonesian people, not just a very small segment of the population.

Map of Power
Joko Widodo and KH Ma’ruf Amin are supported by 9 parties: Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan – “PDIP”, Party of the Functional Groups (Golongan Karya – “Golkar”), National Democratic (Nasional Demokrat – “NasDem”) Party, Indonesian Unity Party (Partai Persatuan Indonesia – “Perindo”), People’s Conscience (Hati Nurani Rakyat – “Hanura”) Party, United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan – “PPP”), National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa – “PKB”), Socialist Party of Indonesia (Partai Sosialis Indonesia – “PSI”), and Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (Partai Keadilan dan Persatuan Indonesia – “PKPI”). On the other hand, Prabowo and Sandiaga are supported by Gerindra, PAN, PKS, Democrat, and Working (“Berkarya”) Party.

Arif Susanto, political analyst from Exposit Strategic, noted that more parties in the People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”) support Jokowi than Prabowo. However, this initial power map cannot safely predict the results of the 2019 Presidential Elections. Recalling the 2004 Presidential Elections, which was the first direct elections held ever, Megawati from PDI-P was paired with Hasyim Muzadi from the Ulema Awakening (Nahdlatul ‘Ulama – “NU”) Party, but they lost to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) of the Democrat Party and Jusuf Kalla (JK) from Golkar. The number of political parties with seats at the DPR is no guarantee to victory.

Arif Susanto thinks that each President/Vice President Candidate pair has its own good cards: Jokowi-Ma’ruf represent the two biggest political powers in the national political constellation, i.e. the Nationalists (Jokowi) and the Conservative Muslims. Prabowo and Sandiaga represent a balance of the senior generation of politicians (Prabowo) with the younger generation (Sandi), as well as the balance between the civilian (Sandi) and the military (Prabowo).

Gun Heryanto, political observer from the Islamic State University of Jakarta (Universitas Islam Negeri Jakarta – “UNJ”) sees that Jokowi-Ma’ruf has the bigger political party coalition, with 6 parties in DPR and 3 non-DPR parties, while Prabowo-Sandiaga are supported by 5 political parties. “However, politics is not just about calculations on paper. A higher number of supporting parties does not necessarily mean an easy win, because there are many kinds of supporting variables,” he said.

Such variables comprise organs, people, and program – that is, how each pair synchronizes each of these components in their power. Everything strongly depends on how good the political parties work, apart from their campaign teams and volunteers, because political parties are more than just supporting individual persons as candidates and getting them elected: they should do their work and give the people political support and representation, from the center to the remotest regions of the nation. Parties with solid political work will gain electoral incentive from the people, i.e. the voters. The better they work and serve the people, the more votes they can win for their candidates.

Election results also depend on how each party and candidate manage their issues and conflicts, especially during the campaign period (21 September 2018 to 13 April 2019). The campaign period is a vulnerable time when many issues, data, and facts, true or otherwise, rise to the top or are dug out by supporters of both pairs in order to legitimize their own candidates’ position and to delegitimize their opponents.

Strengths and Weaknesses
Arif Susanto commented that Jokowi’s position as incumbent is advantageous, as there is more media exposure and he has had intense political publicity since his election in 2014. Jokowi also gives the impression of representing the younger generation in spirit, as shown with his casual style and unexpected stunts. He brings more flexibility and fluidity in politics, thus relieving some of the existing political tension. PDIP and Megawati support him as the political figure that bear their expectations; ditto, the other parties in his coalition.

Ma’ruf Amin represents the nahdliyin, the supporters of the NU, both the people registered as members and the people who simply follow their tenets. They are known as strict, conservative Muslims, which makes them a formidable part of the Indonesian people. His strongly religious position can be used to assuage this group, because they used to dislike Jokowi (perhaps they still do) because of his policies, which they deem not to be sufficiently Islamic for their liking. This group used to take this stance in order to delegitimize Jokowi’s claim to power.

However, the biggest challenges faced by this pair are: first, how to reassure the public that Ma’ruf Amin is an acceptable partner, because he is very strict and conservative, whether in dress or attitude. Ma’ruf is known to be a strict, conventional Islamic leader, and many of the younger generations and the minority fear his influence in future governmental policies. Indonesia is a diverse archipelago filled with people of diverse races, religions, and cultures.

In terms of Ma’ruf’s selection as Vice Presidential Candidate, Jokowi’s followers are split into those who feel that this might shut up the apparently separatist and exclusivist voices of strict, conservative Muslims into becoming more accepting of minorities (especially non-Muslims), and those who feel that he might worsen conservative Muslims’ exclusivity and strictness instead. Ma’ruf Amin is also a person whom the millennials and Z-generations do not connect with: there is a huge communications gap between them and what he represents. This is a heavy consideration, as they are a huge part of voters in the 2019 Presidential Elections (there are hundreds of millions of them registered).

Second, the fact that so many parties work in coalition might also work against them instead. The pair must find a balance point of power distribution among these parties and their many members. Furthermore, the pair must find a way to make their decisions without bowing down to the pressures of these parties, especially their own, and put the interests of the people and the nation first. This is more apparent in the case of Jokowi, including in the issue of selecting his running mate.

Third, neither Jokowi nor Ma’ruf seem to understand economic issues, while our country’s main problems are currently economic.

The Prabowo-Sandiaga pair has loyal following from conservative Muslims, but they still have a long way to go to earn the trust (and vote) of both minority races and religions, as well as the trust of more liberal Muslims who are loyal to their non-Muslim and non-Malay friends. They need to cultivate a more inclusive, welcoming presence in order to assure the people that they really do represent all of Indonesia’s varied races, religions, and cultures.

The perception of Prabowo’s leadership in Indonesia has shifted from that of a strict military leader to that of a leader close to the conservative Muslim element in the country. However, he has a lofty, rather stiff way of communicating with people, due to his military and religious background, and there might be a fear of repression among minorities in view of the tragedy that occurred during the 1998 economic and social crisis.

Gun Heryanto said that this might be offset by Sandiaga’s more youthful, relaxed political communication style, and he further complements Prabowo’s aura of reliability and military security with his knowledge of economic and technological issues. “Because after all, he grew up in an entrepreneurial family and he started his career as an entrepreneur,” Gun said.

Gun further said that another element in Prabowo’s mystique since 2014 is as “opposition” and “underdog”. Gerindra Party under his leadership represents a group beyond the pale of power groups, and this sentiment might earn him some exotic voters’ support.

Jokowi’s advantage as an incumbent is due because he has had intense political publicity since 2014, and his method of communications is more down-to-earth. However, Jokowi’s flaw is that he does not understand the economic issues, while these constitute the main problem faced by his government. See how economic growth rate remains at 5.2%, far below the stated target of 7%.  Furthermore, Jokowi is frequently burdened by the interests of  political parties within his coalition during crucial moments, such as choosing who his running mate is.

Bhima Yudhistira, an economic observer from the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), said that Prabowo has the advantage of appearing to have a stronger leadership than the incumbent, and that Sandiaga’s background as a businessman as well as bureaucrat makes him appear to be someone who understands the current economic condition. Many market actors see the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair as one that might help stabilize the political, military, and economic aspects of the market. They are thought to have strong visions for concrete economic development.

Both Gun Gun and Bhima agree that the pair needs to get out of their current perception of “strong Muslim conservatives” into “strong Muslim conservatives who are tolerant and inclusive of minorities”. Another challenge is how to maintain the solidity of their coalition parties and how to communicate better to voter groups outside of their loyal party cadres.

Jokowi-Amin are considered to bring legal stability, because they continue the current regime. Business actors look forward to legal certainty, but Ma’ruf Amin is not seen as a person who would bring in new economic ideas. Neither the public nor the business element think that Ma’ruf would bring solutions for the current set of economic problems.

Panji Anugrah Permana, a political observer from University of Indonesia, sees Candidate Vice President Sandiaga Uno as an accommodating young figure that a large part of Indonesian people can accept and relate to. He might attract younger voters, and this is important because more than 50% of voters in the 2019 Presidential Elections are Millennials. Furthermore, Sandiaga also has access to several strategic groups and organizations, such as the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kamar Dagang Indonesia – “Kadin”), and the Young Indonesian Entrepreneur Community (Himpunan Pengusaha Muda Indonesia – “HIPMI”). During Sandi’s short term in leading Jakarta, the Oke Oce program is also a strong attraction to the voting public. However, his youthful levity might also cause him to be interpreted or perceived as a person who is “naïve”, “not serious”, and “inappropriate”.

The public has a relatively deep knowledge of Prabowo and Jokowi. Indonesians are emotional and figure-oriented and these candidates already have associations that stick in the public minds, so the issues they are espousing do not count as much as might be the case in other countries.

Panji notes that Prabowo always appear with issues of nationalism. The images closely associated to Prabowo’s leadership are “discipline”, “strictness”, “priyayi” (“gentlemanly”, both in the idea of “noble birth” and “noble actions”). In short, he embodies the concept of traditional Indonesia leadership, one that somehow still sticks in the mind of many Indonesians: a manly, dignified figure. The presence of Sandiaga, who is an experienced businessman, might do much to bring Prabowo’s nationalistic messages down to earth and more forward-looking in the form of solid economic programs and ability to respond to the concerns of the younger generation.

Jokowi offers a different flavor of leadership: a simple, hard-working man; a man of the people, “one of us”. He shamelessly does things that the lower and working class would do, like doing motorcycle stunts or admitting that he does not speak English. He is seen as a humble man, an ordinary man who just happens to be the President. Ma’ruf’s presence would bring Jokowi a touch of the religious and discipline to offset and balance his tendency to act unexpectedly and his too-slack demeanor that many deems to be unworthy of a high official, especially a president.

“It is all about contrasts – it all depends on what the voter’s taste. According to economic theories, voters can be swayed by programs, figureheads, or other causes. Our voters are in the middle of transition, they are still unsure which way to go. But in the end, personal like and dislike is the strongest influence, because humans are personal and we perceive everything according to whether we like it or not. I am a phenomenologist, I have my doubts about the rationality of human choices. A voter’s likes and dislikes determine his or her final choice as a voter. The point of interest is that these leaders are partnered with people who have something that their leadership styles lack: Jokowi is partnered with Ma’ruf Amin and Prabowo is partnered with Sandiaga Uno. Their distinct style leaderships make you wonder, make you excited to see who’s going to win,” Panji said.

Arif Susanto believes that the biggest challenge for both Jokowi and Prabowo is to gain the votes of young voters. This group, comprising of 17-35 years-old citizens, total more than 46% of voters. Winning them would make the rest of the work easier. Let’s just see how they would try to gain the sympathy of this significant group in the days ahead.

Government Claims
Akhmad Akbar S, an economist from the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) sees that many of the economic policies in the Jokowi era are inappropriate. For example, when global oil prices rose, the Government should have chosen one of the two most reasonable options when creating the State Budget (Anggaran Pemasukan dan Belanja Negara – “APBN”): either raising domestic petroleum fuel prices to match rising petroleum fuel production costs, or subsidizing oil production so that the Government does not need to raise domestic fuel prices.

“Yet the Government refuses to take either options – it decides to tell Pertamina (Perusahaan Tambang Minyak dan Gas Bumi Negara – The State’s Oil and Natural Gas Mining Company) to bear the costs instead. I think it’s just running away from the real issue, because it is actually not Pertamina’s responsibility, but the Government’s. Government may make the excuse that State-owned Enterprises (Badan Usaha Milik Negara – “BUMN”) is a part of the Government, as it is a Government asset and Government’s tool in order to realize its purposes. You can’t just do that, because BUMN is basically still a company and it requires good corporate governance. BUMN should take corporate actions based on business considerations: this is good corporate governance. This type of inter­vention is not good corporate governance. BUMNs should not be steered by outside interests, especially if they are short-term ones caused by the Government’s desire just to look good,” he said.

“The Government intervenes with the BUMN and transfers the responsibility it should bare to BUMN; this is not right. This has a bad impact on BUMN, and I can only feel sorry for them. How can Pertamina grow if this happens? That was the campaign promise, wasn’t it, to build Pertamina? True, the Government will not allow Pertamina to die – it returns the oilfield blocks that foreign companies used to manage but whose contracts are now terminating, and Pertamina is told to downsize by selling part of its shares, but that is not good governance. This move is taken just to make the APBN look good – the Government merely covers the issue by letting Pertamina deal with the consequences. This is not right,” Akhmad explained.

Akhmad further explained that the current APBN is inefficient, because it has a high level of “leaks” (corruption). There are two types of leaks. The first are legally wrong actions, such as the improper expansion of APBN values or bribery in projects. This is seen in several Red-handed Operation (Operasi Tangkap Tangan – “OTT”) cases prosecuted by the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi – “KPK”). The second type is not a legal issue, but it is inefficient. For example, ministerial events could have been held in downtown Jakarta instead of outside of Jakarta or in the suburbs, especially if all of the participants are from Jakarta. This wastes money. And that is one simple case.

“Ideally, “economy” should mean “efficient management of budgets”. But it is almost certain that the incumbent would reallocate part of their budget during election year to gain victory in the next election term. For example, throughout 2015-2017 Jokowi’s Government allocated most of its budget for infrastructure construction, and not so much for social security and subsidies. But now social security budget in the 2018 State Budget and the 2019 State Budget Plan (Rencana Anggaran Pemasukan dan Belanja Negara – “RAPBN”) is very big. They had to do it whether they like it or not, because they’re thinking on how to gain the people’s sympathy. It’s the same thing as with fuel prices: Jokowi raised fuel prices when he became president in 2014, but then he said that fuel prices must not rise until 2019. Fuel prices must actually be reviewed once every 3 months to see whether they need raising or not,” Akhmad said.

Bhima Yudhistira said that at the end of his leadership term, Jokowi played the same strategy as  SBY done in 2008: significantly increasing social security. “Hopeful Family Program (Program Keluarga Harapan – “PKH”) beneficiaries, for example, expanded from 10 million to 15.6 million beneficiaries. Civil Servant pay, stable for some time, would rise 5% next year. They believe that this maneuver is the best way to win votes,” he said.

Bhima criticizes the incumbent for making extravagant promises with limited APBN. This backfired: the promise to reduce debts actually cause more debt. Now, both the public and foreign investors have started to show their distrust towards current economic condition. Bhima notes that this is in line with the results of several surveys, which show that the Government’s current weak point is the economy. The Government is considered not to have improved the people’s welfare optimally. The people expressed its dissatisfaction by making various protests, starting from heading down to the streets to waging hashtag wars in social media (the most notorious one being the “#2019GantiPresiden” (“#ChangePresidents2019”) movement.

The Government constantly claims that it has successfully constructed infrastructure. “Unfortunately,” Bhima said, “infrastructure construction is proven to have little effect to short-term economy. Current transaction deficits due to imports of material for constructing infrastructure have increased to up to 3% of the GDP. This causes Rupiah to continue to weaken, and the multiplier effect expected in the reduction of logistics costs are not shown yet. The infrastructure projects executed by BUMNs have turned into statism, as it involved no private contractors. Within the past 3 years, the absorption of workers in the construction sector is far from being optimal. Infrastructure construction is far from being successful.”

Similarly, with Bhima, Ina Primiana, an economic observer from the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE), said that infrastructure projects should have encouraged industries to use domestic products. However, this is not the fact: our imports are now 75%. “If it wants to be consistent, the Government should encourage the utilization of domestic industry. The Government should assist our steel industry, but it never does – there has never been any incentive policies or something similar that would reduce costs. This causes the Government to choose to import cheaper materials from China to cover its infrastructure construction needs,” she said.

The Government should think out policies that would help domestic industries to compete, including the steel industry. Such policies might include the provision of incentives or subsidies that could help domestic products to maintain competitive pricing against imported products. The Government should also encourage and enforce Domestic Component Level (Tingkat Komponen Dalam Negeri – “TKDN”), for example by giving incentives to downstream industries with consistently high TKDN. In the future, the Government must empower domestic products by encouraging the development of major upstream industries, to allow more domestic substitute of imported materials. It is impossible to encourage downstream industries without equal encouragement to upstream industries.

Another claim made by the Government is the reduction of the poverty rate. Bhima said that apart from the validity of data Statistics Indonesia (Badan Pusat Statistik – “BPS”), the fact that poverty rate has decreased into a single digit is still far from the 2015-2019 National Medium-term Development Plan (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah Nasional – “RPJMN”) target, which is to reduce poverty rate to 8.5% in 2019. The current poverty rate of 9.84% is still far from achieving the target. “BPS’ independence is also questioned when the Government asked BPS to coordinate with the relevant ministries when performing poverty surveys in 2017. Before surveys were made, the Government raised social security budget to 80% in Quarter I/2018. According to economic science tenets, statistics have impaired objectivity when the Government intervenes with them,” he said.

The Challengers’ Next Step
Akhmad Akbar S. said that Prabowo and Sandiaga focus on creating job opportunities, reducing the prices of basic necessities, and reducing poverty is a must, as these are crucial issues for the people.

Bhima states that Prabowo-Sandiaga’s focus on economic issues is a good initial step, as the economy is a crucial issue equal to issues such as diversity and tolerance – especially since the prices of basic necessities such as rice, chicken, and eggs have been increasing steadily since Semester II 2018. The complaints most frequently cited by the lower classes – the majority of the people, alias the majority of voters – is that of continuously rising prices and continued lack of job and business opportunities. Therefore, Bhima hopes that Prabowo-Sandiaga exploit their advantage over the incumbent, i.e. their better mastery of the economy. The people seek price stability, job opportunities, and economic growth and look to the challengers to provide these basic things for them.

Competition in the 2019 Presidential Elections will be much fiercer than it was in 2014. The performance of domestic economy is being contrasted highly with issues of religious and racial tolerance. Now, it is time for the people to make their choice. It is time for them to speak out as the holders of the highest right to sovereignty: they all want economic and social stability, and they will choose the leader who can provide them with both these things. The winds of change are blowing: let us welcome change with leaders who understand the people, who care about them and are willing to make necessary sacrifices for them. (Dessy Aipipidely, Ekawati)