The month-long campaign period for the upcoming presidential election has begun. The manifestos of each candidate might be vital considerations for many voters in informing their preference come the July 9 election, but could miss the attention of another large ' and perhaps more substantial ' group of voters who would struggle to comprehend all those 'promises'. The Jakarta Post's Hasyim Widhiarto offers an analysis of the matter.
Businessman and politician Hashim Djojohadikusumo can vividly recall his first encounter with Dutch-born forest researcher Willie Smits, who has spent decades studying palm sugar alternative fuel in Indonesia. He met Smits in 2007, a year before he and his brother Prabowo Subianto co-founded the Gerindra Party, which is now the third largest political party.
'Prabowo and I became aware of Smits when we were researching the energy crisis,' Hashim said in a seminar held last Monday.
'In our first meeting, Prabowo and I ate hamburgers while we listened to Willie's presentation, which lasted for four hours. When the presentation ended, Prabowo said Willie's idea [about alternative fuel] was astonishing and was the answer for our energy problem.'
Indonesia consumes around 1.4 million barrels of fossil fuel per day (bpd), yet, produces less than 900,000 bpd of oil.
Hashim said Smits' research suggested that palm sugar from one hectare (ha) of land could produce approximately 82 barrels of bioethanol per year, meaning that dependence on fuel imports could be slashed through the cultivation of palm sugar on four million ha of land. This, according to him, inspired Prabowo to include the cultivation of palm sugar and other commodities for the production of bioethanol in his manifesto.
With the 2014 presidential election just one month away, presidential candidates and their teams have been busy introducing their presidential vision, mission and programs to the country's 186 million registered voters.
For some key campaign members, like Hashim, their job is not only informing the public about programs, but also how they will be realized.
A seminar on Monday, organized by Gerindra-affiliated think-thank Garuda Nusantara Institute, for example, was held to elaborate on Gerindra and Prabowo's proposed energy sector programs in front of students, activists and representations of government and private sector.
'This is how we will explain and disseminate our party's programs to non-Gerindra supporters,' Hashim, who is also Gerindra deputy chief patron, said in his remarks.
Prabowo, who is a presidential candidate nominated by a Gerindra-led coalition, which includes the Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN), the United Development Party (PPP), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB), will compete in a head-to-head presidential race against inactive Jakarta Governor Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, who is backed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the National Awakening Party (PKB), the NasDem Party and the Hanura Party.
While Prabowo picked PAN chairman and former coordinating economic minister Hatta Rajasa as his running mate, Jokowi opted for former Golkar chairman and former vice president Jusuf Kalla.
Although the majority of pollsters consider Jokowi ' who is well known for being soft spoken and for his blusukan (impromptu visits) while Jakarta governor ' to be the strongest contender for the upcoming presidential election, retired Army general Prabowo has kept his chance of winning alive due to the relatively high number of swing voters.
A survey conducted by pollster the Populi Center from May 24 to 29, for example, showed that Jokowi received support from 42.4 percent of the survey's 1,500 respondents while Prabowo garnered 35.5 percent. Meanwhile, the remaining 21.6 percent were still undecided.
'It is still possible for Prabowo to take over Jokowi's lead. Apart from running effective campaigns, both camps must be able to convince swing voters in their upcoming presidential debates,' Populi chairman Nico Harjanto said on Wednesday, adding that the center's previous survey found that Jokowi still led the race by a margin of more than 10 percent.
Political analyst Burhanuddin Muhtadi sees the narrowing electability margin of the two candidates as an alarming signal for Jokowi, whom he considered less aggressive than Prabowo when promoting his presidential vision to the public.
'Jokowi is rarely seen speaking about his own vision and programs,' Burhanuddin, the executive director of pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, said in a recent discussion.
'This means that many middle-class voters, labeled as Jokowi's support base, are moving closer to Prabowo, who has been intensely covering his programs and is endorsed by PAN and the PKS, the two political parties that maintain middle class support.'
The General Elections Commission (KPU) scheduled the open campaign period to be between June 4 and July 5.
Jokowi ' who seems to be aware of the public's interest in his political ideas ' recently decided to step out of his comfort zone and start speaking about his presidential programs in detail. In a meeting with business communities on Wednesday, the former Surakarta mayor, impressed an audience of hundreds as he outlined his economic platforms, which relied on efficient bureaucracy and the improvement of human resources by integrating science, skills and character building education.
'[Education] will certainly trigger the improvement of our economy. If Indonesians maintain good character and discipline, they will find productivity improves. This [high level of] productivity will later increase our competitiveness [as a nation],' he said.
Jokowi, who holds a forestry degree and has a background in the furniture business, has also sent the message to his political opponents that he could comfortably speak about issues that are not his forte, like defense and security. He told the audience that he would procure three drones, not only for security purposes but also for running surveillance against illegal fishing and logging activities.
Jokowi also mentioned his plan to build new dams and develop reliable irrigation systems to maintain food security and improve farmers' welfare.
'You can prepare new farmland, but where will the water [for irrigation] come from? If basic agricultural infrastructure is not available, don't dream [about food security],' he said, hinting at Prabowo's programs on the establishment of new agricultural land but failing to mention supporting infrastructure in any detail.
Presidential candidate pairs must submit their vision, missions and programs to the KPU when they register for the presidential election.
While the Jokowi-Kalla pair titled their manifesto 'Nawacita' (a Sanskrit term for nine programs) the Prabowo-Hatta ticket named theirs 'the Real Agenda and Program to Save Indonesia', which is outlined in eight areas of discussion. Key campaign members from both camps have admitted that their candidates received support from experts and experienced politicians during the drafting of their campaign promises.
To elaborate on the candidates' proposed policies and programs, the KPU has scheduled five presidential debates between June 9 and July 5. The first debate, on June 9, will cover issues related to the development of
democracy, clean governance, law and human rights.
Gerindra lawmaker Martin Hutabarat said Prabowo would take advantage of the debate series, saying that he was a much better orator than Jokowi.
Capital market analyst Lin Che Wei, meanwhile, said in a discussion last Tuesday that Jokowi had an advantage over Prabowo in luring voters' as he is believed, by many, to be the antithesis of the outgoing government.
'In every election, there is a strong need [among the public] for a change. And Jokowi has the strength there,' he said.