Indonesian Presidential Hopefuls Throw Jabs in Final Election Pitch

Almira Wang
190413_ID_Election_1000.jpg A giant TV screen shows Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (center), his running mate Ma’ruf Amin (left) and Vice President Jusuf Kalla greeting their supporters during their last day of campaigning, at the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, April 13, 2019.
Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and rival Prabowo Subianto traded barbs Saturday as they drew the curtain on their seven-month presidential campaigns ahead of Wednesday’s general election.

Jokowi, who is running for a second five-year term, took a jab at his opponent, questioning the former army general's human rights record.

“I don’t have past burdens, none. I repeat, I don’t have burdens from the past,” Widodo said in an apparent dig at Prabowo, whose military service has been stained by allegations of human rights abuses.

At least 100,000 supporters, most of them clad in white, cheered and chanted “Jokowi! Jokowi!” as the president pumped his two arms in a V-shape and flashed the No. 1 sign with his index fingers at the Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

Jokowi, accompanied by his vice presidential running mate Ma’ruf Amin, touted his track record in which he created new jobs, slashed inflation by more than half, and grew the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation into a trillion-dollar economy.

“We are on the right track. It is true some things need to improve, but it’s a process,” Jokowi, 57, told the rally, his biggest since the campaign began in September. “No one is a pessimist here. Our main asset as a country is our optimism.”

“Our country, Indonesia, will not become extinct!” he said, apparently hitting at Prabowo’s previous statements that the nation of more than 262 million people would go to extinction if Jokowi gets re-elected.

Indonesia experienced a boom in infrastructure projects in recent years, but economic growth has stalled at around 5 percent annually since Jokowi took office, falling short of his 2014 campaign promise of 7 percent.

Last year, as the rupiah currency plunged about 9 percent, Prabowo’s supporters underscored pressures in the financial markets and created a social-media slogan #GantiPresiden2019' (Change the President in 2019). But the rupiah has rebounded from last year’s market rout, gaining about 1.2 percent against the U.S. currency this year.

Jokowi, dressed in his trademark white shirt, stood before cheering supporters on Saturday in a festive campaign rally that featured dozens of renowned musicians.

Prabowo, 67, assembled a similar crowd size at the same stadium last week, where he painted a bleak picture of Indonesia.

“Our national wealth is continuously being taken away. The people’s rights are undermined,” he said.

In most of Prabowo’s rallies, he has criticized Jokowi for failing to achieve higher economic growth targets.

Jokowi still maintains a double-digit lead over Prabowo but that lead has narrowed in recent weeks, according to a survey released last month by pollster Litbang Kompas, which is part of Indonesia’s biggest newspaper Kompas.

According to analysts, the April 17 balloting will be a repeat of the 2014 presidential elections in which Widodo narrowly defeated Prabowo, a retired special forces commander.

In this campaign, the two presidential candidates had pushed for nationalistic economic platforms, although religion and race-related issues loomed large. Widodo, who is a popular moderate, was running with Islamic cleric Ma’ruf, sparking concerns that he could be pandering to conservative Muslims.

Both candidates faced off in a final televised debate later on Saturday where they criticized each other on economic, social, trade and financial issues.

During the debate, Jokowi again talked about his government’s drive to build roads, airports, sea ports and dams across the archipelago.

“We are improving infrastructure all over Indonesia not just Java. We are not Java-centric, we are Indonesia-centric,” he said.

Prabowo accused the Jokowi government of having a penchant for imports.

“We are undergoing deindustrialization,” he said. “We are producing nothing.”

Similar to his 2014 candidacy, Prabowo during this campaign faced widespread allegations that he took part in some of the nation’s worst human rights abuses. But his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, on Friday played down those concerns, saying such accusations only come out during election season. Prabowo has also vehemently denied those allegations.

Opposition presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto greets his supporters while campaigning in Padang, capital of Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, April 2, 2019. [M. Sulthan Azzam/BenarNews]
Opposition presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto greets his supporters while campaigning in Padang, capital of Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, April 2, 2019. [M. Sulthan Azzam/BenarNews]

About 192 million people are registered to vote in Wednesday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

It will be the first time the presidential and parliamentary elections are held on the same day.

Sixteen political parties are fielding almost 8,000 candidates to contest 575 seats in the House of Representatives, but surveys indicate that up to nine parties may not pass the parliamentary threshold of four percent.

Jokowi has promised to boost Indonesia’s economy by ushering in what his supporters describe as industrial revolution 4.0, introduce an unemployment benefit scheme and clean up the bureaucracy.

Prabowo has pledged to establish food self-sufficiency, enact justice reform and improve health care and social security systems.

Voters share their views

Andri, a resident of a Jakarta suburb who attended Jokowi’s rally on Saturday, said he was optimistic that the president would be re-elected.

"I support Jokowi because it is clear the results of his work are real and his programs are good," he told BenarNews.

Another Jokowi supporter, Dewi Utari, said the president had been able to maintain stability and keep prices of staples affordable.

"My hope is that his performance will improve and he will pay more attention to the lower classes, especially in my area," she told BenarNews.

Rohman, a resident in North Jakarta whose house was demolished in 2016 by the Jakarta administration to make way for development, said he would vote for Prabowo.

"Many poor people need jobs. Food prices have increased and many people are complaining," he told BenarNews.

He said he supported Prabowo because of the candidate’s promise to lead the country to prosperity.

Chairudin, a resident of a West Jakarta slum whose house was also demolished in 2016, said he believed Prabowo could lift the Indonesian economy.

"I used to support Jokowi, but he failed to keep his promises" he said, referring to Jokowi's campaign promise not to evict slum dwellers and to revamp homes. “I’m hoping that my home can be built again like before.”

The Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF) said Indonesia needs stronger growth to be able to create more jobs and lift citizens out of poverty.

M. Nawir Messi, INDEF's senior economist, told BenarNews that economic issues facing the next government included managing balanced growth and improving investment competitiveness.

"It is necessary to reduce poverty to single digits," Nawir said, “and to make effective use of village funds to improve the welfare and quality of life of rural communities.”

Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report


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