The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has ruffled some feathers by suggesting that his challenger in the 2019 presidential election employed a foreign political consultant to support his campaign.
A spokesman of the Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno campaign team called the accusation made by Jokowi in a recent speech naïve and nonsensical.
At a recent event in Surabaya, East Java, Jokowi said there was another campaign team playing dirty tricks by disseminating hateful propaganda with the help of a foreign consultant, which divided society and raised concern among the public.
“They don’t care whether or not [the propaganda] makes people feel insecure,” Jokowi said on Sunday.
The incumbent did not mention the country the purported consultant came from, but he spoke about “Russian propaganda” in his speech, saying that in theory, it “produces nonstop slander, lies and hoaxes that confuse the people.”
Although he did not specifically cite Prabowo’s name, the insinuation was quite clear, since Jokowi went on to cite examples of blunders made by the rival camp, such as misinformation about seven containers of ballots from China that had been tampered with to Jokowi’s advantage.
The upcoming election is a two-horse race, pitting the incumbent against the former general again, similar to the 2014 election.
The accusation caused uproar in the country’s political scene, as the rival camps prepared for the second presidential election debate between Jokowi and Prabowo, scheduled for Feb. 17.
The campaign team of Jokowi and Ma’ruf Amin amplified the incumbent’s statement, with deputy chairman Abdul Kadir Karding explaining that the propaganda technique mentioned by Jokowi was dubbed a “fire hose of falsehood”.
“By producing massive hoaxes, the strategy aims to overturn all data and facts to influence the people, particularly in voting,” Karding said. “It’s dangerous, because people will gradually get used to fake narratives.”
A 2016 publication by US-based think tank RAND Corporation characterizes what it calls the “Russian fire hose of falsehood” by two distinctive features, namely multichannel messaging and a willingness to disseminate partial truths or plainly false information.
Similar propaganda is believed to have been utilized in the strategy of US President Donald Trump, who is still under investigation over accusations that his campaign colluded with the Russian government in the 2016 US presidential election.
Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Lyudmila Verobieva issued a statement through the Embassy’s twitter account @RusEmbJakarta on Monday, saying that Russia did not interfere with any electoral matters of other countries.
"We underline that Russia's principal position is not intervening in any domestic affairs and electoral processes in foreign countries, including Indonesia, which is our close friend and important partner," she wrote in the messages.
Karding clarified that the camp did not mean Russia as a country or nation, but that the political consultant allegedly hired by Prabowo’s team was a Russian.
He went on to say that the foreign consultant was also believed to have disseminated narratives that accused Jokowi of being a foreign puppet.
In his speech on Sunday, Jokowi pointed out that his administration had made efforts to take over national assets from foreign investors who had managed them for decades, such as achieving Indonesian majority ownership of PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI).
“Don’t accuse [me] as being a foreign puppet, while [Prabowo] himself is a foreign puppet,” Jokowi said.
Prabowo-Sandiaga campaign team communication and media deputy director Dhimam Abror denied the accusation. “We have no foreign consultants, it is enough that we use local products,” he said as quoted by kompas.com.
Dhimam said Jokowi’s accusation did not make any sense and was naïve. “To counter the “foreign puppet” issue he accused us of employing foreign consultants and concluded that Pak Prabowo is the foreign puppet. [Jokowi’s] logic is shallow.”
Jokowi-Ma’ruf campaign team deputy director for political communication Meutya Hafid said the camp was considering to stop using the term “Russian propaganda” following the objection raised by Ambassador Vorobieva.
Like Karding, Meutya clarified that the camp had not referred to Russia as a country or nation, but said the term had been coined during the US election, and it was feared the same technique would be used in Indonesia.