Citing Trump’s border wall, Prabowo warns of threat foreign workers pose to Indonesia

Left: Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto. Right: US President Donald Trump. Photos: @prabowo / @realdonaldtrump / Instagram
Left: Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto. Right: US President Donald Trump. Photos: @prabowo / @realdonaldtrump / Instagram

Gerindra chairman Prabowo Subianto, the man most likely (but still far from certain) to challenge President Joko Widodo in the 2019 election, officially received the support of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) during International Workers’ Day yesterday.

Beyond being an important endorsement for the former general, who is still struggling to consolidate the political coalition needed to make his candidacy official, Prabowo’s cautionary comments to the KSPI crowd about the dangers of allowing more foreign workers into Indonesia strongly signal something that many political analysts have predicted — Prabowo is planning to adopt a similar strategy to that used by US President Donald Trump for his campaign, one that relies heavily on exploiting the economic insecurity of voters through xenophobic fear-mongering about foreigners coming to take their jobs.

Although there have been plenty of signs that Prabowo was going to adopt such a strategy in the past, the Gerindra chairman specifically referenced Trump’s long promised border wall between the US and Mexico his KSPI endorsement acceptance speech in Istora Senayan yesterday.

“There are no people in the world that want to open their doors to foreigners like us,” Prabowo said during his speech as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

“The United States wants to make a wall to keep them out. In Australia people who try to enter are discharged to remote islands, in Malaysia, our own illegal migrant workers are whipped,” he said.

Prabowo’s comment about “opening their doors to foreigners like us” was in reference to a new presidential regulation (Perpres) on the use of foreign workers, signed by Jokowi last month, that aims to ease some of the challenges faced by companies looking to use workers from outside Indonesia.


Jokowi and his administration have argued that Perpres is necessary to help stimulate foreign direct investment in the country and that its overall effect on the number of foreign workers would be minimal as it was mainly aimed at easing existing processes and did not loosen the already tight regulations on what jobs foreigners can hold in Indonesia (regulations which keep the number of foreign workers in the country incredibly low at just around .04% of the entire population).

But the technicalities of the bill or its impact matter little to politicians such as Prabowo, who know that high unemployment coupled with xenophobic attitudes towards foreigners (particularly the Chinese) held by many low-income Indonesians make the issue ripe for attack.

Prabowo certainly wouldn’t want to be associated with Trump by name (he, along with pretty much every other Indonesian politician denounced the US president’s decision to name Jerusalem the capital of Israel) but political analysts such as Muhammad Qodari, executive director of survey group Indo Barometer, have predicted he would likely adopt a Trumpian campaign strategy ever since the Gerindra chairman’s much panned speech, released in March, in which he predicted that Indonesia could cease to exist by 2030 (based on the premise of the sci-fi novel Ghost Fleet) if the country’s elites continued to sell off Indonesia’s natural resources to foreign powers.

The foreign worker angle certainly seems to be resonating more with the masses than the Ghost Fleet prediction, and with Prabowo on a downward trajectory against a rising Jokowi in the latest surveys, we expect to see him continue to focus on that line of attack as he seeks to solidify political support for his presidential run.

And if indeed the Prabowo continues to lean on the foreign worker issue in the hopes that it becomes his Trump card, then we can also expect the efforts to unseat Jokowi to become increasingly ugly.

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