The Indonesian campaign season is really heating up now, with incumbent President Joko Widodo hitting back at attacks that he’s a puppet of foreign powers by insinuating that his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, is employing foreign political consultants to implement Russian-style propaganda attacks.
At a campaign event in Surabaya on Saturday, President Jokowi talked about how he wanted Indonesian politics to be free of attacks tinged with slander, hoaxes and hate speech. But then he said that part of the reason that was still the case because there was a campaign out there using those kinds of dirty tricks with the help of foreign assistance.
“The problem is that there is a campaign team that prepares Russian propaganda, which keeps shooting out slander and hoaxes,” Jokowi said while addressing his supporters in the courtyard of the Tugu Pahlawan monument in Surabaya, as quoted by Kompas.
Jokowi did not specifically go on to say that it was Prabowo’s campaign that was using “Russian propaganda” but the insinuation was clear. Instead he finished by calling upon his supporters to be brave in fighting hoaxes and fake news, going door-to-door talking to people if needed.
The explosive insinuation was taken even further by members of Jokowi’s campaign, who said that the accusation was based on accurate data and even went so far as to link it to the political strategy of US President Donald Trump, who remains under investigation over increasingly well-substantiated accusations that his campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 US presidential election.
“First, if Pak Jokowi is talking (about that) then it is definitely based on high-precision data. Valid information. Second, indeed their strategy is spreading fear, a firehose of falsehood strategy that was utilized by Russian political consultants for Trump. And it is also thought to be used in Indonesia,” said Jokowi campaign deputy chairperson Abdul Kadir Karding on Saturday as quoted by Detik.
The president further pressed the attack at another event on Sunday, when he again alluded to another campaign using foreign consultants to enact the aforementioned Russian propaganda attacks, a tactic he said was aimed at dividing the country by spreading as many lies as possible.
Jokowi gave the specific example of a hoax about millions of ballots for Indonesia’s April election coming from China that had already been tampered with to his advantage, a hoax that at least two people have already been arrested for spreading.
The president also noted that he had often been accused of being an “antek asing” (foreign stooge) when in fact it was the other campaign that was using foreign consultants.
While his campaign representatives were also careful not to directly accuse Prabowo and his campaign at first (which seems more than a little hypocritical, considering they were speaking out against the spread of hoaxes without offering more concrete details regarding their very serious accusations), his spokespeople went on to confirm that their accusations were indeed aimed at Prabowo’s camp, saying that they had caused “panic” within the challenger’s campaign and calling on them to disclose if they were indeed using any foreign consultants.
The Prabowo campaign deputy director for communication, Dhimam Abror, flatly denied their use of foreign consultants.
“There are no foreign consultants, it is enough that we just use local products,” Dhimam said when contacted by Kompas today.
But then, somewhat confusingly, Dhiman went on to defend the use of foreign consultants, saying that, in the era of globalization, many government and agency projects use them, but that alone is not justification for them to accused of being manipulated by a foreign power.
In fact, Prabowo was known to have used a very prominent American political consultant in his 2014 campaign against Jokowi, a man named Rob Allyn who had worked for George W. Bush and Mexico’s Vicente Fox, among others. Allyn was accused of circulating widespread smear campaigns against Jokowi accusing him of being a Communist, ethnically Chinese and not a Muslim, all rumors that continue to dog the president to this day.
Allyn denied the accusations at the time, saying he only worked with Prabowo to create positive TV advertising.