Economic growth and physical infrastructure development would likely be among the hot issues discussed in Indonesia’s final presidential debate on Saturday (April 13), four days before almost 193 million voters go to the polling stations. Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja specially for The Straits Times.
In the last of five debates leading up to the April 17 elections, both candidates will be allowed to question each other on the economy, social welfare, finance and investment, trade and industry. They will also have to answer questions by the election commission on the same issues.
Previous debates covered issues such as defence, education and environment.
Incumbent Joko Widodo and his running mate, senior cleric Ma’ruf Amin, will face off against former army general Prabowo Subianto and running mate, former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno.
For the two presidential candidates, the polls would be a rematch after the 2014 election, where Mr Prabowo lost to Mr Joko, who won 53 per cent of the votes.
Arguably, the economy is both a strong and weak point in Mr Joko’s re-election campaign, on the back of rising prices and widening current account deficit – having imported more goods and services than it exported – amid a global economic slowdown.
But Mr Joko’s bold move early in his term in office to practically scrap fuel subsidies and use the money to build roads, airports and irrigation systems has won praises, not only at home but also overseas.
He is now banking on this record of infrastructure building and job creation to win another term in office.
Mr Joko also refurbished and expanded airports, thus bringing in more tourists, built seaports to ease bottlenecks, and set up industrial parks that attracted foreign investments.
But Mr Arie Mufti, an economist in the Prabowo-Sandiaga campaign team, questioned whether there was positive impact from the infrastructure projects.
“Infrastructure has been built so massively, but our exports have not grown and our industries have weakened,” said Mr Arie at a discussion organised by the alumni association of the University of Indonesia (Iluni) on Thursday.
The projects were mistargeted and not well planned, and there was a lack of involvement from the private sector, according to Mr Arie.
He cited as examples the Light Rail Transport (LRT) project in Palembang, which was completed last year but did not draw enough passengers and was a burden on the state coffers, and the Kertajati International Airport in West Java that faced a similar problem.
“Infrastructure projects must spur industries as they are not meant to only serve as concrete monuments to help anyone get reelected,” Mr Arie said, adding that all these problems contribute to the government failing to achieve a targeted 7 per cent economic growth promised by Mr Joko during his campaign five years ago.
Mr Rama Pratama, a campaign manager from Mr Joko’s team, said infrastructure projects anywhere in the world would not have instant impact on the economy.
He argued that the government has been on the right track on infrastructure projects and macroeconomic policymaking.
If everything runs smoothly, Indonesia’s economic growth rate would reach 7 per cent in 2023, which would be in Mr Joko’s second term if he is reelected, Mr Rama added.
“Amid a gloomy global economic condition, Indonesia’s economy could still grow by 5 per cent in a relatively stable trend. This shows that a lot of government efforts are being put in,” he said.
“The United States, Europe, China economy are slowing. This explains our slowing exports, as they are our buyers.”
Mr Berly Martawardaya, who teaches economics at the University of Indonesia, hopes both candidates in Saturday’s debate would discuss and explore possible solutions to economic problems faced by Indonesia, rather than make personal attacks on each other.