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Indonesia’s President Jokowi Expected to Win Second Term

Prabowo has pinned his hopes on emphasizing nationalism, appealing to Muslim hard-liners, and promising to double economic growth

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jokowi, elections
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, right, delivers a speech with running mate Ma'ruf Amin during a televised presidential candidates debate in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 13, 2019. VOA

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, facing Gen. Prabowo Subianto in a rematch, is widely expected to win a second term when Indonesians go to the polls Wednesday. Prabowo has pinned his hopes on emphasizing nationalism, appealing to Muslim hard-liners, and promising to double economic growth.

But analysts said Jokowi’s strong economic performance, particularly delivering on infrastructure projects and a national health plan, coupled with a predictable opposition campaign, had given his Independent Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) a substantial edge.

And that’s reflected in opinion polls.

Quieter campaign

Campaigning has gone peacefully amid tight security. Firebrand rallies by ultra-orthodox Muslim clerics have paled when compared with those of past elections, amid a realization in Prabowo’s camp that such political tactics were unlikely to earn him a victory.

Dirk Tomsa, a senior political lecturer and Indonesian specialist from La Trobe University in Australia, said Jokowi had established his Islamic credentials by choosing Ma’ruf Amin, a conservative favorite among fundamentalist Muslims, as his running mate.

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Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, left, with running mate Sandiaga Uno, prays prior to a televised presidential candidates debate in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 13, 2019. VOA

That blunted Prabowo’s attacks, and in a nationally televised debate, he even appeared to back down, saying those who accused him of wanting a caliphate, or Islamic state, were wrong, while noting that his own mother was a Christian.

To counter Jokowi on the economic front, Prabowo and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, promised to double economic growth to 10 percent a year by cutting corporate taxes and opening the Indonesian economy to non-traditional markets.

But analysts said that failed to impress an electorate acutely aware of allegations that Prabowo, the son-in-law of former President Suharto, was allegedly involved in the disappearance of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998, charges Prabowo denies.

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Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 13, 2019. VOA

Tomsa said Jokowi was now the overwhelming favorite to win the election, aided by a late and unexpected swing back to the president in opinion polls.

“Well, up until now, it looks as if there hasn’t been much change in the polls for the last few months, with the exception of the Kompas poll. It looks as if Jokowi still seems to be quite steady in his lead,” he said.

A March survey by the Indonesian newspaper Kompas found Prabowo’s electability had increased by 4.7 percentage points over the previous six months, to 37.4 percent. Jokowi suffered a decline of 3.4 percentage points, to 49.2 percent.

Jokowi’s camp had expected his almost unassailable lead to drop during the later stages of the campaign, a repeat of the election in 2013, when Jokowi’s numbers in the opinion polls fell but he defeated Prabowo easily at the ballot box.

Bounced back

But three further surveys conducted in April by the Indopolling Network showed Jokowi had recaptured the lost ground and is expected to win between 54 percent and 57 percent of the vote, while Prabowo may only muster between 32 percent and 37 percent.

“Prabowo has apparently not found the right edge to really weaken him [Jokowi],” Tomsa said. “It looks as if Prabowo has been ramping up the pressure in the last couple of weeks or so with various allegations, but it’s only a couple of more days to go and I can’t really see how Prabowo can still turn this around.”

Prabowo’s allegations against Jokowi include a lack of impartiality by poll organizers and that voter fraud might undermine the final result. Jakarta-based risk security firm Concord Consulting has said there is no evidence to support such claims.

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Supporters hold a banner showing support for presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto during a campaign rally in Tangerang, Indonesia, April 13, 2019. VOA

Prabowo made similar claims following his defeat in 2013 and launched legal action with the General Election Commission and the Constitutional Court, which failed.

Of Indonesia’s population of 264 million, about 190 million are eligible to vote. It remains the world’s most populous Muslim country, ahead of Pakistan and India. But in this election it is living standards and pocketbook issues that have grabbed voter attention.

David Welsh, country director for the Solidarity Center in Indonesia, said most trade unions were focusing on what type of commitment Jokowi and Prabowo had to offer in an economy dominated by multinational companies but found wanting in the application of domestic labor laws.

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“Trade unions in Indonesia remain either virtually, or in fact, the largest segment of civil society in the country, with crucial issues at play,” he said.

“In terms of predicting a winner, certainly the majority of trade unions are supporting the current incumbent, but it’s been a contentious election. We’d like to see more focus on bona fide trade union issues, human rights issues, [and] labor rights issues,” Welsh said. (VOA)

Next Story

Concerns over China’s Growing Clout, Indonesia Still Hopeful About OBOR

Jokowi is expected to continue courting Chinese investments in his second term, Achmad said. An official preliminary count after the April 17 election showed Jokowi poised for a second term with a 10-percentage-point lead.

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Economists contend that the initiative forces emerging economies to take on unsustainable levels of debt to fund Beijing-backed projects. VOA

Indonesia’s investment chief expressed optimism about the future of China’s massive One Belt One Road (OBOR) infrastructure initiative in his country, despite lingering domestic criticism about Beijing’s growing economic influence.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has made improving Indonesia’s dilapidated infrastructure a priority, and during his first term embraced Chinese investment and attended the initiative’s 2017 unveiling in Beijing. Multibillion-dollar projects under the OBOR banner in Indonesia feature the construction of a high-speed rail link and dams.

Thomas Lembong, chairman of the National Investment Coordinating Board, said this week he believed that “the Chinese leadership will do whatever it takes to make Belt and Road a success.”

“Well, I’m very happy, because it’s going in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned,” he told foreign correspondents in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Lembong also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for what he described as “a stunningly humble posture” in responding to criticism about OBOR.

Soon after Indonesia’s presidential and legislative elections in April, Lembong accompanied Vice President Jusuf Kalla to the second international OBOR forum in Beijing. Kalla witnessed the signing there of 23 agreements between Indonesia and China, which Jakarta has described as business-to-business deals.

The president who just won reelection – according to unofficial “quick-count” projections by independent pollsters – highlighted his infrastructure push during a major post-electoral speech on Thursday. In it, he announced plans to unveil tougher reforms aimed at boosting the economy, as well as lifting Indonesia to developed nation status by 2045.

“First and foremost is infrastructure. Equal development must be achieved. Without it, don’t ever dream of Indonesia progressing to be a country with the world’s fourth or fifth economy,” Jokowi told the National Development Planning Conference in Jakarta, according to Indonesian news outlet Tempo.

Because he was heading into his second and last term in office due to term limits, he said he was no longer burdened by elections.

“So I will do whatever it takes for the country’s sake,” Bloomberg quoted him as saying.

Opposition politicians and conservative Muslim groups have accused Jokowi of being too soft on China by opening doors to Chinese investment in Southeast Asia’s largest economy and, with it, Chinese workers.

China
A migrant worker sits next to his belonging against a wall displaying a Chinese government propaganda message at the Beijing railway station in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. China’s economic growth hit a three-decade low in 2018, adding to pressure on Beijing to beef up stimulus measures and settle a tariff war with Washington. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) RFA

A modern-day Silk Road

OBOR, Chinese leader Xi’s signature policy, is an estimated U.S. $1 trillion-plus initiative that stretches across 70 countries. It aims to become a 21st century Silk Road by weaving a network of railways, ports and bridges, linking China with Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Beijing’s globe-spanning project has drawn criticism domestically and abroad, amid accusations that China is engaging in a “debt-trap diplomacy” by extending excessive credit with the alleged intention of extracting economic or political concessions from the debtor country.

Economists contend that the initiative forces emerging economies to take on unsustainable levels of debt to fund Beijing-backed projects. They highlight concerns by pointing out that a Chinese state-owned company took over a majority stake in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port after Colombo struggled to repay its loans from China.

In Indonesia, the perceived influx of Chinese workers has spawned criticism and was a key issue during campaigning for the April 17 presidential election. The opposition camp tapped into historic sentiment against the country’s ethnic Chinese minority and whipped up fears about eroding sovereignty.

“It can’t be denied that the Chinese have built a lot of bridges, dams, factories and other infrastructure in recent years,” said Achmad Sukarsono, an analyst at Control Risks, a Singapore-based consultancy.

“These things may not be of high quality, but the Chinese get the jobs done, in places where Japanese and Western investors won’t take a second look,” he told BenarNews, , an RFA-affiliated online news service.

“The Jokowi government favors the arrangements with the Chinese because they aren’t too legalistic, with less attention paid to things like human rights, as long as they deliver and both sides’ interests align,” he said.

There were occasional tensions in projects where Chinese nationals are employed as menial workers, foremen and managers, Achmad said.

Economist: Benefit to local economy ‘minimal’

Indonesia’s infrastructure needs cannot be financed by the state budget alone and OBOR is an attractive financing mechanism, said Bhima Yudhistira, an economist at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance.

“But Chinese investment often comes with workers, raw materials, machinery and technology, with the pretext that they aren’t readily available here. So the benefit to the local economy is often minimal,” Bhima told BenarNews.

Despite its embrace of OBOR, the government has insisted that any infrastructure project under the scheme should be profitable and conducted on a business-to-business basis.

Lembong, the Indonesian investment chief, acknowledged that the Jokowi government had “burned untold amounts of political capital” with its decision to welcome Chinese investment.

“Supporting Chinese investment in Indonesia exposes us to this hoax and attacks that we’re somehow an offshoot of the Communist Party, or secretly Chinese, or openly Chinese, and or secretly pro-China or what have you,” he told reporters.

But Indonesia would miss out tremendously if it abstained from Chinese investment, Lembong said.

“What happens then is that Chinese investment will just go next door, to Malaysia, to Thailand, to Cambodia and eventually Myanmar, maybe even the Philippines at some point, and all of them will see enhanced competitiveness, and we will not,” he said.

Sino-Indonesian trade grew almost tenfold from 2003 to 2010 alone, when the volume reached 524 trillion rupiah (U.S. $36.1 billion), according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a Canada-based independent think-tank.

China was Indonesia’s third largest investor after Singapore and Japan in 2018, with investment worth $2.4 billion.

“The government has said all along that we won’t meddle except for facilitating and issuing necessary regulations,” said Wijayanto Samirin, an economic adviser to Kalla, the vice president.

“We have learned from the experience of other countries and conveyed to President Xi Jinping that China must respect our independence,” he told CNBC Indonesia last April.

Projects

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A China-backed hydropower project in Indonesia already is under the spotlight amid concerns that it could threaten the world’s rarest orangutan species. Pixabay

OBOR’s flagship project in Indonesia, a U.S. $6-billion high-speed railway linking the city of Bandung in West Java and the capital Jakarta, went through initial setbacks after it was launched by Jokowi in 2016 to much fanfare.

Construction resumed last year after a delay for more than two years.

Lembong blamed the delay on “good old-fashioned mismanagement and incompetence” and said the problems were being fixed and the consortium building the railway was now being led by “a younger and more energetic” chief executive.

“The project has been in difficulty,” he said, “but I’m confident it’s now being fixed.”

A China-backed hydropower project in Indonesia already is under the spotlight amid concerns that it could threaten the world’s rarest orangutan species.

The U.S. $1.6 billion hydropower plant in the Batang Toru rainforest on Sumatra Island will divide the habitat of about 800 Tapanuli orangutan and increase the risk of their extinction, environmental groups and scientists have said.

Other OBOR projects include a hydroelectric project in North Kalimantan – in the Indonesian section of Borneo – estimated to cost 363 trillion rupiah (U.S. $25 billion) and a series of coal-fired power plants estimated to cost 174 trillion rupiah (U.S. $12 billion).

Achmad, of Control Risks, said problems in securing land also contributed to the delay in the high-speed train project.

But he said smaller Chinese-backed projects in remote places in the archipelago were mostly completed on time.

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Jokowi is expected to continue courting Chinese investments in his second term, Achmad said. An official preliminary count after the April 17 election showed Jokowi poised for a second term with a 10-percentage-point lead.

“The Chinese are here to stay and their role is unlikely to be reduced,” he said, “because they have contributed so much to Jokowi’s programs.” (RFA)