Presidential candidate Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, third from left, and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, fourth from right, posing for a selfie with moderators after the second live debate at the Sultan Hotel in Jakarta on Sunday evening. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Jokowi and Prabowo Favor Image, Populist Jargon Over Detail in Second Debate

BY :MUHAMAD AL AZHARI & DION BISARA

FEBRUARY 18, 2019

Jakarta. Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his sole challenger, Prabowo Subianto, both put forward policies based on resource nationalism, a known "vote-getter," during their second presidential debate on Sunday evening, but their statements did not quite live up to expectations.

The two candidates drew criticism for having failed to provide details of their policies during the live debate, which focused on energy, food and infrastructure.

They entered the debate with stagnant polling numbers, and with Jokowi currently leading by around 20 percentage points. The first debate did not have any effect on his electability, but neither does it seem that the second debate would hurt his lead. More than 190 million people in the world's third-largest democracy are expected to vote in presidential and legislative elections on April 17.

In contrast to the first debate, this time the candidates did not have prior knowledge of what questions would be put to them. The General Elections Commission (KPU) said all questions in the second debate were kept confidential.

Image First, Substance Later?

Febrio Kacaribu, head of research for macroeconomy and trade at the University of Indonesia's Institute for Economic and Social Research (LPEM-UI), said neither candidate really touched the main substance of the theme and instead only seemed to quote from their campaign manifestos.

"Well, at the very least, the public knows what they are up to," he told BeritaSatu News Channel in a live discussion program, adding that there was not much difference between the two candidates in terms of their economic and infrastructure policies.

Febrio said Jokowi appeared to master these areas better, thanks to his four-and-a-half years' experience in leading the nation, but he lamented the fact that Prabowo failed to answer questions about the current administration's policies in any detail. "For example, when it comes to the B20 policy, or about the handling of forest fires," he said, referring to government policy that aims to make all diesel fuel contain at least 20 percent bio-content, typically palm oil, to boost consumption of the tropical oil, slash fuel imports and narrow a yawning current-account gap.

Suryani S.F. Motik, deputy chairwoman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), also slammed the performance of both candidates, saying that they only gave general comments on the topics.

"There was an opportunity where Prabowo could have made an attack, but he didn't do it... I don't know whether it is a strategy to show a better image? Prabowo wasn't fierce at all. Is he becoming a mommy's boy? Meanwhile, Jokowi appeared to be more prepared," she said.

Suryani added that it was not clear whether either camp had studied the effects the previous debate had on their support. 

The Jokowi administration has also promised to reduce land and forest fires by protecting peatland forests, and officials have highlighted an ambitious plan to nearly halve the number of fire hotspots in the country by 2019, in part by implementing a policy on the restoration of degraded peat forests.

Forest and land fires are an annual problem in Indonesia, which has been struggling with illegal logging, slash-and-burn land clearing practices by some communities, and difficulties to manage peatlands, which easily catch fire during the dry season.

Old Mantra

Presidenti Prabowo Subianto was delivering his planned policy on policies on energy, food, and infrastructure in the second live election debate in Sultan Hotel in Jakarta on Sunday. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)
Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaking during the debate. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Prabowo opened the debate by laying out his vision of self-sufficiency for Indonesia – a mantra he has often repeated so far in his campaign – by saying that he would ensure that the county produces all its own food, energy and water. "To become a successful country, we need to truly build our capacity for self-reliance," he said. 

Jokowi, who is seeking re-election, focused on his achievements over the past four years, highlighting stability in the prices of staple food, and reflecting on his administration's measured approach toward national self-sufficiency.

"We want to use as much biodiesel as possible … until dependence on fossil fuel can be reduced from year to year," he said. "In the food sector, we want stock availability, [price] stability to be maintained."

Infrastructure Push

Under the incumbent's Indonesia Maju (Indonesia Moving Forward) campaign, the infrastructure push and greater control over national resources to improve people's welfare, are set to continue. Jokowi said the government had completed many infrastructure projects, connecting cities and islands with roads and ports, over the past four years. 

The Palapa Ring is in its final stage, connecting almost all major islands in the archipelago to a high-speed broadband network.

"Expecting competitiveness without building this? Just forget it," he said. 

Prabowo responded by stating that the Jokowi administration might have launched these projects without proper consideration. "A lot of infrastructure projects are without proper feasibility studies. This leads to inefficiencies and losses," he said. 

The former Army general referred to the limited number of passengers using Kertajati International Airport in West Java and the light rail transit system in Palembang, South Sumatra – both built during the Jokowi era and put into service last year – to illustrate his point. "Infrastructure for the people, not the people for infrastructure. Don't let it become just a monument," Prabowo said.

However, Jokowi denied the accusation. "If it is said they were carried out without feasibility [studies], it is not accurate. These projects have been in the pipeline for so long," he said.

He cited as examples the light rail transit systems in Palembang and Jakarta, which had been in the pipeline for years. He said the challenges are rather to change people's mindset to stop using private vehicles and to use public transportation instead. "What I have learned, is that it may take 10 to 20 years to change such habits," he said.

Incidents Outside the Venue

There were at least two minor incidents near the venue during the debate, causing panic among bystanders. 

A firecracker went off in a parking area in Senayan, about 500 meters from the venue, hurting at least two people who were among those gathered to watch a live broadcast of the debate. Police are investigating the incident to find those responsible. 

Later, thick white smoke appeared at the Semanggi Interchange, also within a 500-meter radius of the venue, raising concern among road users and bystanders. Police later determined that the smoke came from a minibus with a defective engine. The driver was allowed to continue the journey shortly afterward.

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