Incumbent Jokowi wins against Prabowo in Indonesia’s second presidential debate: experts respond

Presidential candidates Joko Widodo (L) and Prabowo Subianto (R) shake hands during a debate among candidates in Jakarta, Indonesia, 17 February 2019. EPA/Adi Weda

Incumbent Jokowi wins against Prabowo in Indonesia’s second presidential debate: experts respond

Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto faced off Sunday, 17 February in the country’s live second presidential debate ahead of the presidential election in April. The debate discussed five topics, comprising infrastructure, energy, food, natural resources and environment.

We contacted several academics to provide analysis on the candidates’ plans and their answers to questions raised in the debate. We also asked them which candidates won the debates with more solid arguments. Of the six academics we contacted, four considered Jokowi performed better than Prabowo. While two academics did not see any winners.


No mention about environmental impact from mining activities

Martin Siyaranamual, Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics and Business, Padjadjaran University

The second debate flowed better than the first. But many of the candidates’ answers are not substantive.

It’s normal for leaders to speak in normative terms, but in certain areas during the debate, they should have introduced more substance in their answers. For example, during the segment on natural resources, the debate would have had more meat if the candidates also discussed preventing environmental damages from mining activities. The two candidates also did not mention about the environmental and social costs of oil palm plantations at all.

The candidates’ normative answers signal their weak understanding of the environmental impacts of mining activities. And their lack of knowledge is not surprising. Data and research on environmental damages due to mining activities are lacking.

The candidates also did not talk about the maritime potential the country holds. Neither of them touched on sustainable fisheries management.

The winner of the debate: Jokowi.

I see Jokowi has a slightly better understanding than Prabowo. This is understandable because as incumbent Jokowi have better knowledge of data. Prabowo could have won this session by being consistent with issues he raised, especially about food prices. But he should have also raised the issue of food security, not just food prices.

No mention of climate change

Sonny Mumbunan, researcher at the Research Center for Climate Change (RCCC) University of Indonesia, economist at the World Resources Institute Indonesia

Throughout the debate, not one presidential candidate touched on climate change. It’s difficult to discuss food, energy, the environment, infrastructure and natural resources in Indonesia without addressing climate change.

During the debate, Prabowo talked in general terms. He touched on the importance of self-sufficiency in food, energy, and water, promising to propose better planning on infrastructure development.

Jokowi tends to be more specific. He elaborated on what he had done and his achievements in eliminating forest and peatland fires and the problem of plastic waste. It is true that forest and peatland fires have declined, for example in terms of the area size of forest and land. The number of hot spots have also decreased. But forest fires still occur.

It is also important to note that the two candidates both pushed for biodiesel without considering its impact to the environment.

The winner of the debate: none.

Each presidential candidate has strengths, weaknesses, and important points that they put forward for each issue.

Law enforcement is not enough to protect the environment

Raynaldo Sembiring, researcher at the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL)

In this second debate, Jokowi was equipped with more data even though there were several incorrect deliveries. His claims that there had been no forest fires and land conflicts over infrastructure development are wrong. Yet, Prabowo was unable to take advantage of this error.

Jokowi understood the complexity of environmental and natural resources problem better compared to Prabowo. The latter only spoke about Article 33 of the Constitution (on natural resources distribution) without explaining his strategy.

But, Jokowi only mentioned his achievements without explaining his next steps. He did not explain how to speed up social forestry targets, implement post-law enforcement recovery and solve land conflicts.

The two candidates also did not understand the root causes of environmental and natural resources issues. They should have elaborated more about post-mining reclamation to protect both the environment and prevent fatalities in mine pits. Resolving the reclamation problem by turning them into a tourist destination only adds to the problem because there is still no recovery for the land.

The candidates also did not answer questions about conflicts with community members whose lands are affected infrastructure development. Solving this by providing compensation is not enough. What about respect for local wisdom and other rights?

The candidates also proposed law enforcement as solutions. But law enforcement is only one part of strategies to protect and conserve the environment.

The winner of the debate: none.

This second debate was very disappointing. Neither incumbents nor challengers raised the issue of climate change which is a common thread among the five debate topics. The candidates also only focused on problems on land and mentioned very little about problems along the coastal areas. Sea pollution, sustainable fisheries and plastic waste are some of the issues they should have explored. Even for deadly problems such as mine pits, the two candidates agreed to not explore.

With all the data that Jokowi had, his performance in the second debate yesterday was disappointing. Prabowo also failed to dig up data and information that are publicly available. There is no winner in this second debate. Both are bad at understanding the root of the problem, formulating concepts and explaining strategies.

Basic infrastructure development plans ignored

Chairil Abdini, lecturer in public policy and decision making at the University of Indonesia, Secretary General of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences

In terms of infrastructure, the candidates’ explanations of their plans were minimal. Prabowo did not explain his infrastructure development plans and priorities, except on the issues of being inclusive and how they should include economic considerations, social and environmental aspects, as well as economic added value.

In addition to explaining his achievements in infrastructure development, Jokowi only elaborated his future plans on the settlement of Palapa Ring, a national fiber optic network development project to support the digital economy. He also mentioned 1000 startup program and support for “unicorn” companies (startups that has a valuation of above US$ 1 billion).

The two candidates could have elaborated further. Infrastructure is also about basic infrastructure for public services, for instance, for education, health services, clean water or drinking water infrastructure. It also includes sanitation, residential roads and drainage systems, infrastructure for solid and liquid waste management and social infrastructure to develop social cohesion.

From a macroeconomic perspective, infrastructure development is an investment to economic growth and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). During the construction period, infrastructure development has quite a lot of backward and forward linkages, thus driving the economy and providing jobs.

Backward linkages from infrastructure development include cement, steel, building materials (stone, sand) supplies, construction services, and others. Forward linkages are the development of economic activities that will grow from infrastructure development.

From the micro side in the infrastructure development, it is important to set up a priority due to limited financial resources. In addition, a good planning process also needs to be considered so that infrastructure development provides output and outcome as planned.

The winner of the debate: Jokowi.

Jokowi has advantages compared to Prabowo, especially in terms of data and experience in infrastructure. Jokowo was able to express not only his the achievements but also future plans such as the completion of Palapa Ring to support digital economic activities in Indonesia.

Talking about energy, what about electricity?

Eniya Listiani Dewi, Deputy of Information, Energy and Materials Technology, Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology

In the energy debate segment, moderators questions regarding energy did not include the broad scope of energy. Electricity was not discussed, even though fuel is not the only issue when talking about energy. This is unfortunate because electricity needs and problems associated with them are very high in Indonesia.

In the first session, Prabowo Subianto conveyed that Indonesia must be self-sufficient in energy, food and water, but did not elaborate more. He promised to reduce the price of electricity immediately but did not explain the details. The word “electricity” was only mentioned once by Prabowo and once by Joko Widodo when talking about infrastructure. There is no further exploration.

Jokowi from the beginning showed the importance of renewable energy. He suggested to increase the use of biofuel and green diesel fuel from oil palm as a solution to cover energy needs.

He mentioned that all vehicles must now use biodiesel 20 (B20, 20% vegetable oil and 80% petroleum) and B30. Initially only vehicles that are subsidised must use these mixed fuels. Jokowi said he targeted B100 for vehicles, which means that fuel will 100% be derived from palm oil.

It is true that to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as increase the economic growth, biofuels can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels. But, the candidates did not mention that palm oil (the major ingredient of biofuels) still has problems at the plantation system level and has a negative impact on the environment. If the candidates don’t address the issue, it will be difficult to achieve a larger biodiesel target.

Prabowo also stated that palm oil is very important because palm oil is used for the development of biodiesel and biofuel. He said Brazil had reached B90. This statement is wrong. The truth is that Brazil only has B7 (7% biodiesel) and E100 (pure ethanol) with the concept of flexibel-fuel vehicle .

Prabowo said that he would push for the use of palm oil as biofuels and biodiesel so prices would not fall. If we only use palm oil for fuel, Indonesia will have to import of vegetable-based fuels. He also mentioned that he would boost sugar palm, cassava and ethanol to encourage energy independence.

But if all palm oil becomes fuel, then the price must be competitive and non-fossil policies must be reduced decisively. However, efforts to diversify fuels by using various biomass sources must be supported with the availability of raw materials.

The winner of the debate: Jokowi.

Overall, Jokowi’s concept of energy self-suffiency is clearer than Prabowo’s. Now what is needed is to strengthen policies to achieve the national target of new renewable energy at 23% by 2025.

Lack of food data

Bisuk Abraham, researcher from the Institute for Economic and Community Investigations, University of Indonesia

Increasing domestic production and reducing imports are the main topics of the two candidates in their vision and mission in the food sector.

Unfortunately, one thing that is very important, but not discussed, was the improvement of high-quality data on agriculture, plantations, livestock and fisheries in Indonesia.

Candidates also talked about Industrial Revolution 4.0 in these sectors. This technology revolution should have been used as a reason to improve data quality, in addition to bringing producers closer to consumers.

If the government has accurate information about the food production potential and realisation, the government will be able to produce more effective policies and interventions.

The winner of the debate: Jokowi.

Jokowi mastered the performance last night. He has a better understanding of the importance of imports as an instrument to stabilise food prices. Jokowi also understands the role of infrastructure in reducing logistics costs and also digital technology’s role in making supply chains more efficient. Meanwhile, Prabowo seems trapped in a concept that is not yet clear.

This article was originally published in Indonesian