Election season: Indonesia - 5 days to the polls

Indonesia votes: Rivals to focus on economy, infrastructure

For the two presidential candidates, incumbent Joko Widodo and Mr Prabowo Subianto, seen here in a debate last month, the polls will be a rematch after the 2014 election. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
For the two presidential candidates, incumbent Joko Widodo and Mr Prabowo Subianto, seen here in a debate last month, the polls will be a rematch after the 2014 election. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Supporters of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno parading around the Welcome monument in Jakarta with a 120m-long banner yesterday during the evening rush hour. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Supporters of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno parading around the Welcome monument in Jakarta with a 120m-long banner yesterday during the evening rush hour. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Incumbent's record under microscope as Jokowi, old foe Prabowo prepare to face off in final debate before polls

Economic growth and physical infrastructure development would likely be among the hot issues discussed in Indonesia's final presidential debate tomorrow, four days before almost 193 million voters go to the polling stations.

In the last of five debates leading up to the April 17 elections, both candidates will be allowed to question each other on the economy, social welfare, finance and investment, and trade and industry.

They will also have to answer questions by the election commission on the same issues.

Previous debates covered issues that included defence, education and environment.

Incumbent Joko Widodo and his running mate, senior cleric Ma'ruf Amin, will face off against former army general Prabowo Subianto and running mate, former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno.

For the two presidential candidates, the polls would be a rematch after the 2014 election, where Mr Prabowo lost to Mr Joko, who won 53 per cent of the votes.

  • Buzz of activity in the heart of Jakarta

  • GUERILLA CAMPAIGN

    • Supporters of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiaga Uno mounted a guerilla campaign in downtown Jakarta yesterday. A group of about 50 people suddenly appeared at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, carrying a 120m-long banner in support of the Prabowo-Sandiaga ticket, disrupting rush-hour traffic momentarily.

  • ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

    • Today, Mr Prabowo will be campaigning in Surabaya, East Java, where he may reveal a shortlist of names being considered for Cabinet positions, if he is elected president. Meanwhile, President Joko Widodo is staying in Jakarta to prepare for his debate with Mr Prabowo tomorrow at The Sultan Hotel. 

  • WHAT DO SURVEYS SHOW?

    • More than half of 1,000 urban Indonesians surveyed by the research unit of Britain's Financial Times (FT) late last month and early this month, said they would vote for Mr Joko and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin. FT Confidential Research said the two scored 52. 6 per cent, and an extrapolation of the results - removing the undecided and abstainers - shows them with a 23.9 percentage point-lead over Mr Prabowo and Mr Sandiaga. Mr Andi Haswidi, a senior researcher at FT Confidential Research, however, said that while polls suggest that Mr Joko will coast to victory, a "narrower-than-expected win for the incumbent on Wednesday cannot be dismissed, and this presents the risk of political tension in South-east Asia's biggest economy".

Arguably, the economy is both a strong and weak point in Mr Joko's re-election campaign, on the back of rising prices and widening current account deficit - Indonesia having imported more goods and services than it exported - amid a global economic slowdown.

But Mr Joko's bold move early in his term to practically scrap fuel subsidies and use the money to build roads, airports and irrigation systems has won praises, not only at home but also abroad.

He is banking on this record of infrastructure building and job creation to win another term.

Mr Joko also refurbished and expanded airports, thus bringing in more tourists, built seaports to ease bottlenecks and set up industrial parks to attract foreign investments.

But Mr Arie Mufti, an economist in the Prabowo-Sandiaga team, questioned if there were positive impacts from these infrastructure projects.

"Infrastructure has been built so massively, but our exports have not grown and our industries have weakened," said Mr Arie during a discussion at the University of Indonesia yesterday.

 
 
 
 

The projects were mistargeted and not well planned, and there was a lack of involvement by the private sector, according to Mr Arie.

He gave the examples of the light rail transit project in Palembang that was completed last year but did not draw enough passengers and was a burden on the state coffers, and the Kertajati International Airport in West Java that faced a similar problem.

"Infrastructure projects must spur industries, as they are not meant to only serve as concrete monuments to help anyone get reelected," Mr Arie said, adding that all these problems contributed to the government failing to achieve the targeted 7 per cent economic growth promised by Mr Joko during his campaign five years ago.

Mr Rama Pratama, a campaign manager with Mr Joko's team, said infrastructure projects anywhere in the world would not have instant impact on an economy.

He argued that the government has been on the right track with infrastructure projects and macroeconomic policymaking.

If everything runs smoothly, Indonesia's economic growth rate would reach 7 per cent in 2023, which would be in Mr Joko's second term if he is re-elected, Mr Rama added.

"Amid a gloomy global economic condition, Indonesia's economy could still grow by 5 per cent in a relatively stable trend. This shows that a lot of government effort is being put in," he said.

"The United States, Europe, China economies are slowing. This explains our slowing exports, as they are our buyers."

Mr Berly Martawardaya, who teaches economics at the University of Indonesia, hopes both candidates in tomorrow's debate would discuss and explore possible solutions to the economic problems faced by Indonesia, rather than make personal attacks.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2019, with the headline 'Rivals to focus on economy, infrastructure '. Print Edition | Subscribe