Vice-president candidates Ma'ruf Amin (L) and Sandiaga Uno (R) during their debate in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 17 March 2019. Adi Weda/EPA

It’s a draw. In Indonesia’s vice-presidential debate, both candidates fail to offer relevant programs

Indonesia’s third debate on March 17, exactly a month before the presidential election in April showcased vice-presidential candidates Ma'ruf Amin, a senior Islamic cleric chosen by incumbent President Joko “Joko” Widodo, and Sandiaga Uno, a businessman turned politician from Prabowo Subianto’s camp.

The two candidates debated health, education, employment and socio-cultural issues. We contacted four academics to provide analysis of the candidates’ visions and program planning. They all concluded that nobody won the debate. Neither Ma'ruf nor Sandiaga offered programs that were relevant to solving problems related to education, health, employment and socio-cultural issues.


Candidates’ solutions for employment not visionary nor relevant

Hizkia Yosias Polimpung, Lecturer at Bhayangkara Jakarta Raya University and researcher at Purusha Research Cooperative

In general, the two candidates did not provide ideal solutions for employment problems. Both Ma'ruf and Sandiaga responded to hot topics such as labour in the industrial revolution era 4.0 and foreign labour. However, they did not outline a long-term vision.

Both of them discussed these labour problems as something that just happened. For example, both of them saw a mismatch between millennial skills and the needs of the workforce as the root cause for millennials being the most unemployed group.

Based on the International Student Assessment system (PISA) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the problem lies in Indonesian education suffering from systemic problems, failing as a result to equip students to respond to fluctuating life realities.

The proposals of both candidates in the field of employment did not seem to provide solutions to this.

Ma'ruf’s idea to prioritise the provision of technical and vocational skills would not work. Graduates of vocational schools are the ones most likely to be unemployed.

Also, this solution does not respond to global trends. The latest report from global management consultancy McKinsey & Company in Indonesia shows that labour in the digital era increasingly needs to have knowledge-based skills and not technical and practical skills.

The report recommends training in skills that sharpen thinking at the abstract level to solve complex problems. This is needed so that Indonesia can reap investment returns from intangible assets such as research, brands and copyrights. The latest World Bank report also emphasises the provision of social skills. But the two candidates did not raise these two things.

The candidates seemed biased towards industry rather than workers. They always talk about developing the workforce to meet the needs of the company.

Winner in this session: none

Sandiaga looked more convincing and proposed more concrete programs compared to Ma'ruf. However, a concrete program offer is not enough if it is not relevant to the current global context and does not work for the benefit of the masses.

Candidates did not touch the root of the problem of education

Luhur Bima, SMERU Institute Senior Researcher

Ma'ruf Amin mentioned the plan to develop the Indonesia Smart Card scholarship program to the university level. Currently, this scholarship is given to poor students between elementary school and high school. Sandiaga Uno said he would raise the quality of education by improving the welfare of honorary teachers and improving the curriculum, focusing on character strengthening.

The candidates did not touch on the root of the problem of education in Indonesia, namely that there are still many Indonesian children who come to school without actually learning from school. The results of analysis by the RISE Indonesia team with data from the Indonesian Family Life Survey (IFLS) show that many high school graduates are still not able to correctly answer numeracy problems that should have been mastered in elementary school.

Regarding the research climate in Indonesia, Sandiaga’s plans to strengthen research are better than what Ma'ruf proposed. I’m doubtful that Ma'ruf’s plan to manage research funds under the new National Research Agency will improve the quality of Indonesian research given that issues of coordination and institutional ego are still a severe problem in the Indonesian bureaucracy.

Sandiaga’s idea to encourage research collaboration between government, academics and business has the potential to strengthen research in Indonesia. However, its implementation must be carefully monitored to ensure the independence of research activities from the interests of companies, which can harm the community in general.

Winner in this session: none

Sandiaga was able to describe the ideas and programs he carried out better than Ma'ruf. However, they did not touch on the main problem of education in Indonesia, namely the low quality of basic education. A large and luxurious house without a solid foundation will be vulnerable to collapse, likewise with the education system. Without strengthening the basic education system, it’s futile to discuss the future of Indonesian research.

Basic health problems are not highlighted

Hardisman Dasman, Public Health Expert, Andalas University, Padang

The vice-presidential candidates did not provide strong ideas for resolving basic health problems such as high maternal mortality rates and chronic degenerative diseases.

Ma'ruf Amin and Sandiaga Uno did not mention at all data about chronic degenerative diseases, which are among the top ten causes of death in Indonesia. The numbers tend to increase in the 2018 Basic Health Research report.

Ma'ruf only spoke about government programs that are now running like PIS-PK (Healthy Indonesia Program with Family Approach) and Germas (Healthy Living Community Movement). Sandiaga mentioned daily preventive programs through sports. Aspects of smoking behaviour and tobacco consumption associated with degenerative disease were not discussed at all even though this unhealthy behaviour is related to serious illnesses that consume National Health Insurance (JKN) funds.

In the context of JKN, Ma'ruf only mentioned that he would continue the social health insurance program, but did not touch on problems faced by the JKN system and the Health Social Security Agency (BPJS) as the organiser. Sandiaga also focused on JKN and touched on preventive aspects such as increasing physical activity through 22 minutes of exercise every day. Sandiaga said he would focus on solving the problems that occur at implementation, such as resolving the issues of BPJS deficits, late payments to hospitals, and problems with payment of medical personnel.

In the debate between candidates, Sandiaga explained the concrete steps of calculating in real terms how much financing is right for JKN, by involving financial experts and health financing. But there was no further explanation of how it is to be applied.

If with the right analysis the per capita costs of each participant are obtained, will the BPJS health contributions from the non-PBI community (Contribution Beneficiary) that are not borne by the state be increased? If this is done to cover the BPJS health deficit, it will burden the community. If the contribution of the participant (community) remains, the government will bear this. Sandiaga did not explain what he would do if elected to cover the BPJS deficit.

The two candidates mentioned the issue of maternal and child health (MCH). However, both of them did not explain the data and there was no spotlight on the maternal mortality rate (MMR) – which in the last Inter-Census National Survey report was still 305 per 100,000 live births – anaemia in pregnant women, and infant and under-five mortality rates.

The candidates only mentioned the problem of stunting. Sandiaga said there would be milk assistance for children who had been weaned. By comparison, Ma'ruf was better at explaining this issue, that the problem of stunting is a complicated matter, related to 1,000 days of life following conception in the womb. Ma'ruf explained well the preventive importance for pregnant women of maximising current programs such as PIS-PK (Healthy Indonesia Program with a Family Approach) and Germas (Healthy Living Community Movement).

Winner in this session: none

Overall, the program offered by Ma'ruf is more appropriate for resolving health problems in the context of prevention, but what the breakthroughs will be and what will be done to improve the existing programs was unclear. Sandiaga’s preventive program sounded more like an appeal.

Lack of concern for marginalised groups

Ni Luh Putu Maitra Agastya, Social Protection Researcher at the University of Indonesia’s Center for the Study and Advocacy of Child Life Protection and Quality (PUSKAPA).

Based on the presentation of the vision and mission delivered by each of the candidates, social and cultural issues were not a priority.

There was no discussion of social programs related to the protection of women, children, groups of people with disabilities, and indigenous peoples.

Social assistance programs should target vulnerable groups whose access to social assistance and other programs has been limited.

The problem of rising intolerance was also not discussed in terms of the socio-cultural aspects. Recent research from SETARA Institute shows several cities and districts are still implementing policies that are not inclusive. This problem was hardly mentioned throughout the socio-cultural debate. Neither candidate talked in concrete terms about the idea of increasing tolerance through education.

When answering questions about cultural infrastructure, no one offered a concrete strategy. The two candidates should have talked about strategies that target the root causes of the weak cultural infrastructure. One of the roots of the problem is low interest in literature and the development of regional culture in education.

Winner of this session: none

Socio-cultural issues are broad issues but are interrelated with the issues of education, health and employment.

In this debate, the two candidates were not able to provide a solution to how vulnerable groups can get access to public services either with cards or through other excellent programs that have been offered. There is no priority to change policies and conditions that structurally limit access for vulnerable groups. This includes socio-cultural norms that cause these vulnerable groups to be socially marginalised and receive discriminatory treatment from public services.

This article was originally published in Indonesian