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    Southeast Asia
     Jul 8, '14


Cornucopia of promises at Indonesian polls
By James Bean

Indonesians go to the ballot boxes this Wednesday to choose a president from two candidates who hail from starkly different backgrounds. Exhibiting diametrically opposite in personalities and campaign styles, they have whipsawed the nation into one of the tightest of races in the nation's post-1998 political history.

If recent polls are accurate, the leads claimed by either camp are so narrow that the margin of error in polling may actually render changes in voters' support statistically insignificant. Indonesia's media has meticulously recorded the promises and key statements of the candidates, which is in contrast to English-language coverage.

The nation's leading English-language newspaper, The Jakarta



Post, recently took the unprecedented step of coming out in support of career politician and incumbent Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and his septuagenarian running mate, former vice president Jusuf Kalla. Widodo, or "Jokowi" as he is fondly known, has had a popularity boost from widespread discomfort with the association of his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, with past human rights abuses.

Over the weekend, The Jakarta Post reported that the National Human Rights Commission officially endorsed the Jokowi-Kalla ticket, citing Prabowo's "involvement in kidnapping pro-democracy activists amid the fall of his former father-in-law Suharto in May 1998".

Overseas, a fiercely anti-Prabowo line has emerged among political commentators, including leading academics at Australian National University. Their popular online magazine New Mandala has turned out a litany of scathing critiques dismissing Prabowo as a Putinist authoritarian and dictator in-waiting. Prabowo has responded to the criticism, asserting in a recent interview his commitment to democracy and upholding the Indonesian constitution.

But what happens if Prabowo wins, as some polls now indicate? What will a Prabowo-Hatta administration look like? And in the same scenario, what are the promises and cabinet choices his Merah-Putih ("Red & White") coalition will have to confront before it runs the country?

Prabowo's political party, the Great Indonesia Movement Party, or Gerindra, first emerged during the 2009 legislative elections, where it secured 26 seats in the House of Representatives, representing around 4.5% of the vote. Gerindra almost tripled its share of the vote last May, coming in third with nearly 12%, behind Indonesia's established political parties PDI-P and Golkar.

In other words, the message (and the machine) is getting through to the electorate. But, what is Prabowo's message? One commentator observed that "he adopts the body of [independence hero] Sukarno, but in language, he imitates [former dictator] Suharto."

There is certainly a defensive quality to his oratory, warning in speeches the nation against "sticking their heads in the sand in the face of danger" and enjoining them to "protect our territory, our sovereignty" and dream of an Indonesia that is "revered" (disegani) not "trodden on by other nations".

As a career soldier and former acolyte of his autocratic father-in-law, that is hardly surprising. There's also no doubt that Prabowo exudes a steely determination, and it is winning him votes. But his economic mantra is also persuading many Indonesians, an aspect of his campaign that has attracted very little scrutiny overseas.

Channeling his inner-Clinton - "it's the economy, stupid" - most of Prabowo's promises relate to the economy. Whether it is decrying waste or aiming his fervent oratory at economic inequality, Prabowo appears to be aware of the magnitude of the economic challenges ahead, arguing forcefully that economic growth would have to increase to double the current levels of 5-6% of gross domestic product if Indonesia is to avoid a middle-income trap.

Jokowi and Kalla are significantly less forthcoming and decisive on their economic diagnosis and policy prescriptions. However, this lack of clarity on economic policy has not deterred overseas markets, which have signaled broadly a preference for a Jokowi-Kalla ticket.

Prabowo-Hatta's promises
  • 250% increase in average minimum wages to around US$500 per month, much to the consternation of Indonesia's business elite.
  • Abolishing outsourced labor and labor brokers' response to demands by Indonesia's largest labor union.
  • Getting The Dirt Flying: Massive infrastructure development, including 3,000 kilometers of roads and 3,000 kilometers of rail across Indonesia.
  • One Billion Per Village: Prabowo has promised Indonesia's roughly 74,000 villages one billion rupiah per year per village, which some quarters have pointed out is already being implemented.
  • Free education up to and including tuition at public universities.
  • Big tax push to raise collection from the current 12% of GDP to 17%.
  • Doubling the Corruption Eradication Commission's current operating budget.
  • 1,000% wage increase for Indonesia's 1.2 million honorary teachers.
  • 50-67% reduction in the nationwide fuel subsidy over 3-5 years.
  • Weaning Indonesia off public foreign debt and making the most of consolidated revenues.

    Jokowi-Kalla's promises
  • Jokowi recently promised 10 million new jobs and his mission statement refers to systematic salary increases for public servants and security service personnel.
  • The Jokowi-Kalla platform on labor reform is focused on legal reform, the provision of workers' housing, albeit with a caveat on controlling inflation.
  • Rehabilitation of three million Ha of irrigation-based agricultural land, 25 dams, and 5,000 traditional markets.
  • Jokowi has promised even higher disbursements to villages in addition to a targeted household subsidy for disadvantaged families, and poverty alleviation measures.
  • Jokowi-Kalla have matched Prabowo-Hatta's promise on free education, to be further entrenched by compulsory education laws.
  • Wide-ranging agrarian land reform, including redistribution of nine million hectares of land, protecting customary rights over land, opening one million hectares of land for dry land agriculture, and increased investment in rural areas.
  • Jokowi-Kalla have signaled their support for the commission, in addition to foreshadowing the resolution of past human rights incidents and a comprehensive review of Indonesia's military justice system.
  • Buy-back of telecommunications giant Indosat that was sold off in 1998 by Megawati Sukarnoputri.
  • Transition from imported fuel and Indonesia's corpulent fuel subsidy to domestically sourced natural gas and biofuels, including a 30% reduction in private transport through a raft of public/mass transport initiatives.
  • Extensive wildlife and environmental conservation policy, including a massive reforestation target of 2 million hectares to be rehabilitated per year.

    The obvious question for either candidate is how they can afford to implement and realize these ambitious promises over a five-year timeframe. An equally important consideration is who will be given the ministerial portfolios charged with championing these changes?

    Based on last May's parliamentary election results, the Jokowi-Kalla ticket secured approximately 40% of DPRI seats with the Merah-Putih coalition picking up the balance. In recent weeks, the Indonesian media - to say nothing of the elite rumor mill - has been afire with stories of cabinet deals, the most recent concerning Central Java Vice Governor Rustriningsih turning her back on the PDI-P and announcing her support for the Prabowo-Hatta ticket.

    This means that despite the rhetoric, cabinet composition deals must already be well advanced. Both candidates have sought to disparage commentary predicting that cabinet appointments have already been brokered. In reality, both camps know that they will have to come clean with voters at some point on their intra-coalition cabinet deals. In terms of cabinet selection, here's what has been promised or strongly implied through the media:

    Prabowo-Hatta's cabinet hints
  • Both Prabowo, Golkar party officials, and Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie himself have hinted that Bakrie is the presumptive Menteri Utama, an anomalous, potentially unconstitutional ministry.
  • Said Aqil Siroj, chairman of Indonesia's largest Sunni Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has indirectly confirmed that NU has dibs on the Minister for Religious Affairs.
  • Labor union leader and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) member Said Iqbal is on record saying that by entering into a political contract with the nation's largest union, it is reasonable for either himself or someone from Indonesia's nearly 70-year-old teacher's union, PGRI, to be offered a cabinet slot.
  • Whilst Prabowo is on the record denying that the Education Ministry is the province of conservative Muslim party PKS, the latter has a history of coveting the education, agriculture, and social affairs ministries.
  • Prabowo has pledged that 30% of his cabinet will be filled by women, adding that if he does not follow through on the vow he will be "impeached" by his own party.
  • Special forces mandarin, son of communist purge leader Sarwo Edhie, and incumbent President Yudhoyono's brother-in-law, Pramono Edhie Wibowo is the most important person from the Democrat Party to accommodate within a Merah-Putih cabinet.

    Jokowi-Kalla's cabinet hints
  • Incumbent Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Chairul Tanjung and senior economist Faisal Basri have been name-dropped as the economic brains of a Jokowi-Kalla cabinet.
  • The chairman of coalition partner The National Awakening Party, Muhaimin Iskandar, confirmed that a Jokowi-Kalla cabinet would also defer to NU for this slot.
  • Despite Jokowi's careful denials, National Democrat Party founder and media mogul Surya Paloh is almost assured a prominent role in cabinet, most likely Minister of Communications and Information Technology.
  • Highly ambitious intellectual Anies Baswedan has been at pains to deny that he has been offered the Education and Cultural Affairs Ministry.
  • Prabowo's pledge on appointing women to key roles is matched by Jokowi-Kalla, although it is not as explicit in relation to cabinet composition as Prabowo-Hatta promises.
  • With a promised threefold increase in defense spending, likely Indonesian National Armed Forces interlocutors are seen as Ryamizard Ryacudu, A M Hendropriyono, Tedjo Edi, and Luhut Pandjaitan. Ultimately, it will come down to who PDI-P powerbrokers such as Megawati and Tjahjo Kumolo feel most comfortable dealing with.

    Refreshingly, and something of a first for Indonesia, the foreign minister portfolio is spoilt for choice. At first glance, the slot is a toss-up between the incumbent Marty Natalegawa and the much-respected former government spokesman and momentary presidential hopeful Dino Djalal. Both are career diplomats and have been coy about their prospects.

    Whilst Jokowi is likely to reinstate Natalegawa, it's unclear if Prabowo would tap him, as some have suggested, or pick Djalal given his stronger association with the Democrat Party. Another tantalizing possibility is veteran Golkar politician and United Nations diplomat Marzuki Darusman.

    Indonesia's economy needs a safe pair of hands to sustain the recent period of strong growth. Something of a dark horse in this election is leading Indonesian economist and World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

    Both camps have a history of courting her. Two years ago, Sri Mulyani was mooted by Gerindra as a candidate for vice president. Earlier this year, Jokowi's people considered her for their vice presidential candidate before settling on the more politically connected Kalla.

    Recalling that her resignation as finance minister in 2010 roiled markets, it's entirely possible that her reinstatement might have the opposite effect. For Sri Mulyani to join a Prabowo-Hatta administration, however, would require a Herculean effort at persuading Bakrie, whose animosity towards her is well documented.

    Regardless of which candidate wins the election, whoever is installed at the key economic portfolios will face a tall order in balancing ambitious election promises and wary global financial markets. Indeed, the sheer weight and scale of the cornucopia of promises made by both presidential candidates may well sow the seeds of their respective coalition's eventual disintegration.

    If Prabowo is to keep faith with the various promises he has made and honor the inducements offered to other parties and individuals needed to build his Merah-Putih Coalition, his presidency and new cabinet will likely face tremendous pressure from the outset. This is especially true if the resurgence of activism awakened by the Jokowi-Kalla campaign shifts gears and stays mobilized in opposition to a Prabowo-Hatta administration.

    Jokowi, on the other hand, will most likely experience a honeymoon period where voters and markets are satisfied that the "good guys" won - until, that is, his administration starts to renege on its various campaign trail promises.

    James Bean is a PhD candidate with The Australian National University's School of International, Political, and Strategic Studies. He may be reached by e-mail at beanjamesp@gmail.com

    (Copyright 2014 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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