Donald Trump’s success in winning the US presidential election has inspired Prabowo Subianto, the Indonesian presidential candidate with campaign number 02. Prabowo’s style of campaign and strategy is similar to what Trump did two years ago, such as leading people to no longer trust the mass media, spreading pessimism, and using incorrect data.
Prabowo’s statement during a speech at an event commemorating International Disability Day in Jakarta on Wednesday (12/5) reaped a polemic. He accused the mass media and journalists of lying and manipulating democracy. “They [journalists] are henchmen of people who want to destroy Indonesia,” he said.
The statement is actually a manifestation of Prabowo’s protest against the mass media, which is considered to be less responsive to the ‘Reuni 212’ issue. He assumed that many mass media did not cover the event. However, Tirto.id research team noted that dozens of print media making coverage for the event. The news even reached a fantastic number of up to 159 news titles on printed media the next day. All of the news framing was almost the same with positive tone.
Prabowo also accused journalists of not being objective and asked the public not to trust the mass media anymore. He said he would no longer acknowledge the journalists who covered him. He was even reluctant to be interviewed by a number of journalists who were waiting for him after the Wednesday’s event.
Prabowo’s stance that seemed to insult the mass media and the journalistprofession is actually nothing new in the political arena. Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting (SMRC) Director Sirojudin Abbas said Donald Trump had done the same thing when he became a candidate for president in the US Presidential Election in 2016.
When competing with Hillary Clinton, Trump had accused various mainstream media of spreading false news, including CNN, NBS, and the New York Times. These mass media were considered not independent, so they were forbidden to cover Trump’s press conference. “I think he [Prabowo] learned it from Donald Trump. What Trump did was clearly demeaning and humiliating mainstream media,” Sirojudin told Katadata.co.id on Thursday (12/6).
According to Sirojudin, Prabowo used the practice of accusing the mass media of dominating the conversation and directing public opinion. In this way, the presidential candidate, who once served as commander of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus), could convince the public that he is a victim of a conspiracy carried out by non-neutral mass media. This tactic is expected to be able to attract public sympathy and increase his electability. Sirojudin said Prabowo has carried out this strategy since the beginning of his campaign.
Before the opening of the 2019 presidential election contest, Indo Barometer Executive Director M Qodari in April had predicted that Prabowo would emulate Trump’s campaign style. At the time, Qodari saw a same strategy between the two in contrasting the lower classes with the upper class and spreading pessimism.
During the US Presidential Election in 2016, Trump played the issue of inequality in his country. He also tried to spread fear that the US was under foreign threats, such as China, the threat of Islam, and Mexican migrant workers. “The interesting thing in Donald Trump’s case is that what he said was not always true. What’s important is that people hear it. The more controversial, the better,” Qodari said.
This strategy is similar to what Prabowo did. In his speech at the end of March 2018, Prabowo utilised the forecast that Indonesia would disband in 2030. This refers to a novel written by two US political and policy experts. Prabowo also accused many elite officials in Indonesia of being ignorant, possessing thief mentality, and being unfaithful to their people.
The messages he delivered seemed to imply that Indonesia would be destroyed if he is not the leader of the country. If pessimism and fear are successfully developed and affect the public, Qodari said the tendency to choose Prabowo as president could be greater than choosing Joko Widodo (Jokowi).
According to him, the campaign style as implemented by Trump is quite effective in gaining votes. It is also considered to have become a global trend. There is a possibility that Prabowo is inspired by Trump’s strategy, which succeeded in making him win the US presidential election. Trump used ‘Make America Great Again’ as his campaign slogan. According to Qodari, the free translation of Prabowo’s speech last March is to make Indonesia great again like ‘Asian Tiger.’
His prediction was proven in Prabowo’s speech six months later. During the LDII National Meeting last October, he shouted ‘Make Indonesia Great Again.’ However, Prabowo denied imitating Trump because he had mentioned this slogan in two books he wrote.
The Exposit Strategic Political Analyst Arif Susanto also agreed that Prabowo imitated Trump’s campaign style. This can be seen from the stance of his campaign team, which is not too dependent on the survey results from various polling institutions. Prabowo prefers to directly meet with his supporters through big meetings as Trump did. His campaign team also seemed to have directed the public not to trust polling institutions and are confident with its own survey results, which showed that Prabowo-Sandi’s electability is still higher than Jokowi-Ma’ruf.
Another similarity with Trump is that Prabowo often asked his supporters to make sure their names are included in the final voter list (DPT), while Trump often asked the US citizens to use their voting rights. Moreover, Prabowo also often criticized various problems that occurred during Jokowi’s administration, such as economic conditions, poverty, and employment.
If elected in the 2019 Presidential Election, Prabowo promised to be able to solve those problems. However, he never explained how he would solve it. According to Arif, this was also done by Trump when campaigning in the US Presidential Election. “If we look at the US presidential election, Trump deliberately ignored the question of how to solve problems,” he said.
Prabowo’s campaign is also inseparable from identity politics. His campaign often reminded the public to protect Indonesia so that the country is not controlled by foreign henchmen. Moreover, he had also used incorrect data for several times during his campaign. For example, Prabowo cited World Bank’s data that 99 percent of Indonesian people only have just enough money to live. A few days later, the World Bank denied it.
Another example is Prabowo stated that Indonesia’s poverty rate rose 50 percent during Jokowi’s leadership, even though data from the Statistics Indonesia (BPS) showed poverty tended to decline, even reaching a record low since 1998. Prabowo also said the current tax ratio was lower than in the New Order era.
Arif said Trump also used incorrect data during his campaign, including false data about 30 million illegal immigrants living in the US. Based on data from the US Department of Homeland Security, there were only 11.4 million in 2012. “It was a false data, but he [Trump] did not care,” Arif said.
According to Arif, Trump’s campaign strategy will be dangerous if it continues to be used in the 2019 Presidential Election. It will also worsen the quality of Indonesia’s democracy in the future. The strategy will also create greater polarization in the public, which in turn can lead to commotion.