Editorial: Worst Elections Under Worst President

Editorial Omong-Omong

7 min read

Just days after the February 14’s voting day, many people started to feel that they could have voted the wrong horse with some unofficial counting, known as quick counts, showing that ex-general Prabowo Subianto and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, lead by wide margin and could win it outright without a run off.

The prices of the rice, an essential source of carbohydrate for Indonesians, climbed to a level never before experienced by the country. For most people who used to buy rice at IDR 10,000 (US 64 cents), buying the staple food at IDR 18,000 or even double the price is a huge additional burden because they have experienced a general price hike lately – albeit incrementally from electricity, fuel to groceries to avoid anger during election years – as Jokowi is ending his term later this year.

Such a price hike has been caused by the low supply in rice as Jokowi uploaded all of the state’s stock weeks and days before the election to woo people to vote for Prabowo and his son. 

Performing a show to the media, people and the world just days before the elections, Jokowi himself even handed the packages of rice and groceries (known here as Sembako) randomly to people passing by the state palace as the packages were piled not far from him to tell people it’s him who is generous enough to give people with food, and they must all thank him by voting for his son.  

With planting and harvest seasons being delayed since last year due to El nino, the price will not return to the initial prices, and the government will do what it does best all this time: buying anything from abroad. Despite such huge and fertile land, Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest importers of food. And it’s getting worse under Jokowi.

In an attempt to quell people’s anger post election, the Jokowi administration is again playing God. They conduct an operation to sell rice with lower prices as if they save people from high prices of rice. Now, in many regions across Indonesia, people are seen queuing for cheap rice sold by the government. 

This Sembako bribing is only one of tactics used. This is included in the much bigger bribing program called Bansos (social assistance), which also includes BLT (cash assistance) People have also been bribed by cash, known as BLT or Bansos (social assistance). And this vote bribing has shown success. According to Omong-Omong Media’s election observation, which was conducted a week before the election until two days after, Bansos is a key determinant in why people vote for Prabowo and Gibran. 

Interviews with a number of people in 16 regencies and cities across Java, Madura, Bali and South Sulawesi have revealed that people thanked Jokowi for the Bansos, and are afraid that it would be stopped if the voted for other candidates not supported Jokowi’s programs, or not being supported by Jokowi. 

Near the election or since 2023, Jokowi has ramped up the funding for Bansos. In 2023 alone, IDR 476 trillion has been allocated to the program while in 2024 it is up by IDR 20 trillion to 496. In total, the government has allocated almost IDR 1,000 trillion to bribe people during the election years.

The government is deliberately concentrating much of the money in the month leading to February 14’s election day. The three-period Bansos fund was pooled into this month’s crucial moment to get a meaningful impact in wooing the voters. 

As if money was not enough, state officials and local authorities were mobilised to influence people to vote for candidates supported by Jokowi. Interviews conducted by Omong-Omong election observation team also found that neighbourhood heads and area heads (ketua RT and RW), as well as village heads have been involved in influencing people to vote for the candidate long before the election day. These village heads have been promised bigger village funds, and if they happen to misuse the fund they will get a pass, a promise of impunity that will worsen the corruption level of the country, already one of the most corrupt in the world.

Jokowi’s goal of continuing to stay in power is well planned ahead. 

Jokowi who at the time still had the full support of big majority of the House of Representatives, including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the biggest faction that carried him to presidency, managed to revise the election law in which the elections of regional heads will be held at the same time in 2024, creating vacant position in 272 regional head posts because these regency heads, mayors and governor finished their terms one or two years before the direct elections in 2024.  

Such a hole presented an opportunity for Jokowi to directly handpick 272 temporary regency heads, mayors and governors across Indonesia, providing him huge power and control over voters ahead of the direct elections. 

These regency heads, mayors and governors have authority and oversee in areas where more than half of voters live. These appointees will do whatever they can to please the president, including making sure that his son wins the elections. This partly explains why Prabowo and Gibran seemed to have control over officials in the regions across Indonesia.

After failing to convince Megawati Soekarnoputri, the chairwoman of PDI-P, to allow him to contest for his third term (by constitution Indonesian president is limited to only two terms in office), and thus change the constitution, the relations turned sour, and Jokowi discarded the party and joined Prabowo Subianto, who then took Gibran for his running-mate. PDI-P then decided to choose Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo as their presidential candidate.

PDI-P, which should have thought they would have a big advantage because they thought Jokowi would have been loyal to them, is possibly now still kicking themselves, seeing their support, strategy and lawmaking achievement have been used against themselves. Ganjar has been beaten everywhere during the elections, even in PDI-P’s strongholds, like Central Java.  

While elections under the New Order Era could not be categorised as a real election because Indonesia was under a ruthless military regime, and not really a democracy, Indonesia is considered itself as a democracy today, and the election is a real election. But as far as the democratic principles are concerned this is the worst election Indonesia has ever had at least since Reformasi started more than 25 years ago.

Living on A Borrow Time

But where does all this money to assure victory in the elections come from? Simple, from foreign debts.

Jokowi actually has no real achievement. Instead of working hard to slowly strengthen and widen Indonesia’s industrial base as well as patiently waiting for tax revenue to increase, he seeks the easiest way out. He mortgages Indonesia’s natural resources and commodities, and borrows from abroad every time he needs money. 

Indonesia has run on a deficit budget under Jokowi. Its tax to GDP ratio is also among the lowest in Asia-Pacific, or only around 10 percent, much lower than the average of the Asia-Pacific countries of around 18 percent. 

In 2023, Indonesia, for instance, will have a deficit of around IDR 350 trillion. Meaning, it has to continue to borrow to fill the gap. Under Jokowi, Indonesia must pay interest of around IDR 500 trillion every year because of these debts, meaning a fourth or a fifth of its annual budget must be allocated to pay debt interests, excluding its principal. 

In fact, Jokowi has borrowed more than IDR 6,000 trillion since coming to office in 2014, bringing Indonesia’s public debt to more than 8,000 trillion while his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has managed to keep the foreign debts at around IDR 2,000 trillion.

Jokowi’s regime lives and breathes with debts. Imagine if you have IDR 6,000 trillion to spend as a president. You can actually do many things to the people who have voted for you. 

But no. The number of poor people in Indonesia is still around 26 million, or around 10 to 11 percent of the population, or more or less the same number as under Yudhoyono. Indonesia is still one of the countries in the world with the highest inequality, with the wealth of 4 richest Indonesians equal to the wealth of 100 million poorest. Indonesia is still the country with lowest education in Southeast Asia, with around 60 percent of its population only being educated up to 9 years (below junior high school).

Indonesia’s economy and economic growth are still very much dependent on extractive industries, and people’s consumption, meaning people are actually working for Jokowi instead of the other way round.

Such huge foreign debts have been either recklessly used by Jokowi to build something, such as his new capital or woosh, Bandung-Jakarta speed train,having no impact on people’s lives, or to bribe people so that he can maintain his popularity.

The almost $8 billion Woosh, which is heavily financed by debts from China, is struggling to attract passengers, with almost all of its seats empty on a daily basis.

So, while Indonesia failed to improve under Jokowi in economic and social terms, its debts are getting higher, its natural resources are vastly depleted and its environment and forests are massively destroyed. 

Jokowi and his circles plus cronies – all oligarchs – who become filthy rich at the expense of people must be held responsible for what he has done to Indonesia. 

Ultimately, they must be held accountable to explain where all this money went.

This is a terrifying reality for Jokowi. That’s why he wants to hold on to power as long as possible, to bury this calamity. It’s his main interest. This is actually not for his legacy but for his survival.  

Prabowo and Bubble Indonesia

What Jokowi is doing is not sustainable.

For now, he manages to buy out his survival with Prabowo and his son, Gibran, seems to have won the election. But for how long? 

Or has he?

Will Prabowo continue Jokowi’s way? Will he want to become the shadow of his predecessor?

Or, will there be great enough resistance from people against this election scandal? Will people are united enough to say enough is enough?

But Prabowo actually has a golden opportunity to redeem himself.   

First, it’s hard to argue that the election has been rigged from the very beginning. 

Jokowi can ridicule everybody, and laugh at people. But any decent and honest Indonesians can feel and understand that many things are going very wrong.

And if you violate the law, or cheat your way through, winning does not make you right. It can’t, especially if you have no idea what to do with the victory.

Does Prabowo know what to do?

Prabowo will ultimately know that he has inherited a big mess from Jokowi. The only quick way to redeem himself is distancing himself from Jokowi and isolating his predecessor. After all, he is the president and all powers are in his hand, not Jokowi. Not anymore.  

Once he finds out the mess, he will try to shift blame. Jokowi should be the main culprit.

Prabowo is not that naive. By the end of the day he wants to have his own legacy. However, it does not mean that Indonesia will end up in a better hand.

Looking at what Prabowo has been doing as Indonesian defense minister where he was on a borrowing spree without budget discipline, he could continue what Jokowi has done, even worse. 

But the bubble will ultimately burst, sooner than later.

And we better watch out.

However, it is stupidity, illiteracy, ignorance and greed that pose bigger threat to Indonesia than both Jokowi and Probowo combined. They are the reason behind the rise of both men in the first place. This is why it’s urgent that we should start do something about it. Now, or never.

Editorial Omong-Omong

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