Indonesia’s 2019 presidential contenders agreed to pause campaigning last week in the wake of the devastating twin disasters that hit Central Sulawesi and killed thousands, but it didn’t take long for the government’s response to the tragedy to become politicized.
In addition to accusing President Joko Widodo of not doing enough to help the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, challenger Prabowo Subianto and his campaign have harshly criticized the incumbent over a meeting of officials from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank that’s taking place in Bali this week, arguing that it’s inappropriate to waste so such money holding a “luxurious” international conference when those funds could be spent on survivors in Sulawesi instead.
Rizal Ramli an economist working for Prabowo’s campaign, specifically questioned the conference’s price tag of around USD 70 million (IDR 830 billion) saying it was extraordinarily luxurious and that Jokowi’s administration could have held the meeting for a fraction of that amount if it wasn’t so worried about impressing foreign delegates.
Rizal argued that the government should have done things to cut down on costs, such as asking Indonesian banks to call upon their wealthiest clients to lend their cars to pick up conference goers. He also had some culinary cutback ideas.
“In fact, when it come to food they they should at most prepare drinks and potato chips. There should not be meals. Let them pay for their own food. We are a country going through difficult times and many disasters, don’t do this. Show that we are concerned [for the survivors],” Rizal said Friday at Prabowo’s campaign headquarters in Jakarta as quoted by Detik.
That sentiment was echoed by Prabowo’s running mate, former Jakarta Vice Governor Sandiaga Uno, who also recommended austerity and cost-cutting measures for the IMF-World Bank meeting, such as not serving wine and just giving delegates drinking water instead.
Despite various members of his campaign receiving invitations to the high-level economic conference in Bali, which starts tomorrow and goes until Sunday, Prabowo and his team announced they would not attend in protest.
It is hard to say where the line should be drawn regarding government spending during a humanitarian crisis of such magnitude as the one currently taking place in Sulawesi — the latest official figures put the death toll at nearly 2,000 while over 5,000 are feared missing. Some aid agencies are estimating that as many as 2 million people could still be in urgent need of assistance.
However, officials from Jokowi’s PDI-P party hit back at Prabowo’s team, saying that the president was on top of the situation in Sulawesi and so the disasters were not a reason for Indonesia to humble itself in front of the world by offering inferior hospitality to its guests. They also argued that the conference was important to improving Indonesia’s overall economy and that meetings regarding the economics of disaster management had been added to the agenda.
Although protesting a global financial summit is very much in keeping with the Prabowo campaign’s platform of economic nationalism, PDI-P leaders (and many others) also suggested that the criticism was an attempt by the Prabowo camp to distract the media from the dominant political drama of last week regarding former Prabowo campaigner Ratna Sarumpaet’s fake claims about being beaten up. Prabowo and his representatives bought her lies and repeated them themselves, eventually leading to Ratna being arrested by the Jakarta police for spreading misinformation and a humiliating blunder for the challenger’s campaign that some analysts suspect might have already cost Prabowo April’s election.