Editorial: “Wakanda No More, Indonesia Forever”

Editorial Omong-Omong

4 min read

The first debate between the three candidates in Indonesia’s presidential elections on Tuesday evening (December 12) managed to clearly shows most of ideas, characters and appeals of each of the candidates, and if this debate can’t push the undecided voters to vote and swing voters to change their mind, then – barring spectacular incident happening – nothing will.

The debate, which was watched widely by tens of million Indonesians across the archipelago, however, provided Anies Baswedan with most gains, allowing him to show his mastery of language, issues and communication skills, likely adding him several percentage points in voters – at least from young voters in urban areas – and solidifying a place for him in the second round if the last survey by Kompas is used as the parameter.

Most surveys have indicated that while Prabowo Subianto is still the candidate to beat, these surveys – and most observers – agree that it will be difficult for him to win in a single round although Prabowo’s camp has expressed ambition to win the election in one punch. 

A survey by Litbang Kompas, covering the period of Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, 2023 finds that Prabowo and his running-mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, son of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, lead the pack with 39.3 percent, with Anies and his running-mate Muhaimin Iskandar, chairman of the Indonesian Awakening Party (PKB), which has a strong connection to Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest islamic organisation, and the ticket of Ganjar Pranowo and Mahfud MD come in second and third place with 16.7 percent and 15.3 percent respectively.

The surprising parts are that there are still a high percentage of undecided voters and swing voters who can still change allegiance. Undecided voters stand at 28.7 percent while swing voters are still at 40 percent – in both of them, many are those who previously supported Jokowi. Anything can still happen but looking at the trend, which is usually more important than what a candidate is getting at one particular point, Anies is on the rise, Prabowo tends to be stagnant while Ganjar is on the decline.

Mathematically, Prabowo can still win it upright if he can convince at least half of the undecided voters, which is difficult,  while he can stop the outflux of swing voters leaving him.       

And if Prabowo’s performance in the debate is of any indication, voters will unlikely boost his chance to realise this elusive ambition. If anything, he can drop his lead after showing uncontrolled emotion and cockiness, among others mocking Anies while the latter was talking and challenging voters to not vote for him, as well as scary gestures reminding viewers of what he did in 1998.  

That’s the fair assessment of the debate from neutral Indonesians and even from Prabowo’s own reasonable supporters.    

While we have to give credit to Ganjar for his gut to ask Prabowo about past gross human rights violations and his direct question to the ex-general about the whereabouts of the rest of the activists allegedly abducted during New Order era and if Prabowo can help the families finding their bodies, indirectly accusing him of abduction, the former Central Java governor often speaks out of topic and can not clearly explain what he means, raising questions if he already loses the contest. 

As the debate last night was about democracy, human rights and law, Anies Baswedan wastes no time in conveying his plans on fixing legal problems and Prabowo is busy defending the status quo and boasting what he did as ex-military man and praising what Jokowi has done in apparent attempt to keep his supporters from leaving. Meanwhile, Ganjar is just out of topic, failing to mention anything about law & democracy.

Anies criticises the current decline in the country’s democracy, pointing to a legal system that only protects the powerful elites sacrificing the weak ones, and the worsening condition for freedom of expression, citing some examples of people being arrested for criticising and rubber laws, such as ITE (cyber) law. In fact, most of Anies’ message centres around the need to bring back freedom of expression to Indonesia.

His closing credo “Wakanda no more, Indonesia forever” refers to the fear felt by many Indonesians when criticising the government, replacing Indonesia with Wakanda to avoid being prosecuted. 

Prabowo, meanwhile, continues to defend Jokowi, at one point telling Anies that he could not have become the Jakarta governor if Indonesia’s democracy was that bad as described by him. But Anies fired back, criticising Prabowo as not consistent because he could not stand to stay at opposing Jokowi, joining instead as his minister. Such a criticism did not sit well with Prabowo who showed an uncomfortable gesture toward the statement. 

In the Papua question, Prabowo seems determined to keep the current policies intact – military approach – saying that the problems are complicated, blaming foreign forces aiming at dividing Indonesia and praising Jokowi as the president who is the most frequent to come to Papua. 

Anies was quick to reply that the biggest problem in Papua is the absence of justice, sharing with Ganjar of the need for inclusive dialogue to end the conflicts there, rather than the current approach.

Then the debate arrived at three most wanted issues. 

First was about a problematic ruling by the Constitutional Court that allowed Gibran to run as Prabowo’s running-mate. A supervisory body has found that the justices have violated gross ethical standards of conflicting interests by issuing the ruling, releasing Anwar Usman, Jokowi’s in-law or Gibran’s uncle, from his position as the court chief.

Prabowo was silent before answering that ethical problems have been tackled by the body, and that the ruling was not overturned, and it was final and binding, adding that they merely follow the law and arguing that there was no law intervention whatsoever. He turned to the audience, yelling “If Indonesian people don’t want us then don’t vote for us. People will be the judge.”

The second issue was about Jokowi’s US$30 billion new capital project (IKN) in East Kalimantan, with Ganjar asking Anies a direct question: “Please state clearly your opinion on IKN?” Anies: “Don’t run away from problems. If there is a problem in Jakarta, solve it. Also, there are other far more pressing issues than IKN.”

Ganjar: “So, you oppose IKN?” Anies nodded, stating: “This is the problem with making law in a hurry without public participation. We are forced to discuss it after becoming a law. Indonesia is a country based on law, not power, but IKN law shows it turns into a country based on power.”

Then, the third issue was about past gross human rights violations as Ganjar asked Prabowo: “Do you have the willingness to set up a human rights tribunal to try past human rights violators? Prabowo, who has been kicked out of the military for his involvement in such abduction cases, refused to answer, stating he will uphold human rights. 

Stating that there are still many activists who have not gone home since 1998, Ganjar chased Prabowo: “Will you help the families finding their whereabouts, or if they have already died, their bodies?

Prabowo: “I don’t know. Why ask me? Ask your running-mate Mahfud, who handled the cases.”

Knowing that this kind of debate could get rough, even for a very experienced man like Prabowo, is not good news for Prabowo camp. Imagining 36-year-old Gibran facing experienced and highly-educated Prof. Mahfud MD and seasoned politician Muhaimin Iskandar in a free debate will have been terrifying for Prabowo-Gibran camp. And this is just the very first debate out of five debates – three for the presidential candidate and two for the vice presidential candidate.

Editorial Omong-Omong

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