JAKARTA, Indonesia – Rappler’s Maria Ressa sits down with Indonesian elections presidential contender Prabowo Subianto’s spokesman Sandiaga Uno.
MARIA RESSA: Thank you so much for joining us. Why Prabowo?
SANDIAGA UNO: For me, it’s very simple. I’ve known him for a long time. About a decade ago, I was consulting for one of the business opportunities that he was in. At that time, he had just gotten back from overseas. He started a new life as a businessman, and he struck me as very straightforward, kind of born again businessman and so we had very good interactions. So I sensed that he’s very straightforward and that he’s keen to become a – you know, his father is an economist so it’s natural for him to be in the business settings.
And then after a few consulting tasks, we did not meet for a long time. We met again in 2012, and that’s really because of Jokowi. We both believed that he would really be carrying on under such a phenomenon, the transformation of Jakarta. So we worked on the campaign and basically succeeded in getting Jokowi a 5-year job here as governor.
And at that time, he said that he’s really looking forward to an Indonesia that would be driven by these young minds, and really progressive. And he has stated since his 2009 loss to SBY that he would be contesting, and it’s something that he’s worked on a long time. Since 2012, he asked me and his personal advisers to put inputs where young entrepreneurs can play a role, where the young generations of Indonesians can fit within his platform of people’s economy – independence on energy, independence on food, as well as basically the platform for building infrastructure. So I have been on quite a high intensity discussing with him.
So when he asked me to join his team as spokesman, it came very natural. I think that he has a good platform to bring Indonesia forward. I’ve been very fortunate for the last month to be serving as his spokesman.
MR: It’s ironic. So he worked on Jokowi’s campaign, and now he’s running against Jokowi.
SU: Well, it’s the other way around. Because if you rewind to 2012 – and that’s what differentiates Prabowo from other politicians – he’s not your typical politician where things can change and things are in a flux. He’s pretty much quiet – probably from his military background, he thinks people honor their commitment. And you know early in the discussions in 2013, I reminded Prabowo that you may face Jokowi in a race because people are training him, and the media are playing and he’s now a media darling but you know he’s already thinking. He said, no, I trust Pak Jokowi, he will finish his job. It’s what Indonesia needs now, what Jakarta needs. He will be good for Jakarta now. He will be good for Indonesia later. This is the commitment and the consistency I see in Pak Prabowo.
MR: Pak Prabowo has had a great momentum built up in the past month. He’s cut down the lead of Jokowi from 30% to a near dead heat right now. Nobody seems to know who’s going to win. What is his appeal to Indonesian voters at this point?
SU: I think the Indonesian voter is now starting to realize that his message is a very simple message – of bringing up the country to provide food independence, to be fulfilling our energy needs, our electrification ratio is around 70%. We were at Ciparay yesterday in west Java talking to farmers where they are facing very difficult conditions where their land had been taken away. They could not be self-sustainable in terms of bad harvest. So this simple message really cuts across.
And I think the momentum is with him now. We see a very strong trend of people liking his messages of a strong Indonesia, very decisive, firm and being a leader that could really lead and govern. Not a president that has to – really now has to handle different types of politics, but he represents someone strong, firm and decisive, and this is what Indonesia needs 5 years from now.
MR: Why is there such a yearning for this in Indonesia, this tegas. Why does that appeal to Indonesians so much?
SU: Well, Indonesia has so much potential: we’re the largest country in ASEAN. We have tremendous potential, the human capital as well as the natural resources, but we have not reaped the potential of this because some plans are being stifled. Politics, our bureaucracy, by planned issues, for instance – and SBY has done a tremendous job in the last 10 years, but there are some unfinished businesses like bureaucracy reform, and you need a strong leader to basically not only be innovative in approach, but also firm in representing to the country. That this is what I want, and I want to see it through. Somebody that is basically representing what Prabowo is now saying that you need firm, decisive and strong leader.
MR: Pak Prabowo, though, has a past that haunts him. For the international community, this is a reincarnation…
SU: For you especially.
MR: For me…
MR: Yes, you see a man who was part of Suharto’s New Order, in many instances, the rising star of that. The head of the elite Kopassus, and then, he was disgraced – a fall from grace so fast. He ran for president in 2004, vice president in 2009. Didn’t make it in both. Who is Prabowo now?
SU: I think he’s a – and this is another fact of the story – Indonesia loves a comeback story. We love this very big struggle – you saw Megawati’s – how she fell out of power, then came back strong, and fell out of power and back again, and her party is now a winner. Also… Indonesia loves this type of story, and Prabowo in ’97, ’98, basically went through a huge turmoil, those have been answered in 2004, 2009 and 2014, those questions remain the same, but he came back, became a businessman, picked the right investments, built his business and ventured into politics. Established a party from scratch, made it #3 in 2014 – that’s a remarkable story, and this is what democracy in Indonesia has created. Those types of possibilities and opportunities.
MR: It’s amazing watching this process right now. It’s truly democracy. If you look at it, again if you go back to history, this is either the last gasp of the New Order or a complete reincarnation or reinvention…
SU: I think it’s a misconception. People would say it’s the New Order or the last gasp. I think it’s a new Indonesia whereby we think that… because he’s a reformed man. He would not be contesting 3 general elections, spending tremendous amount of resources, time, and commitment to Indonesia’s democracy if he doesn’t believe in the new Indonesia. He would not come back to the New Order because that recipe failed big time, and he sees 2 types of Indonesia, an Indonesia that’s ready for the ASEAN Economic Community and the 21st century, these are Indonesians of the middle class, upper, big businesses here, they’re ready to compete any day of the month. But he’s seeing another type of Indonesia not too far away from Jakarta, whereby they need to be helped… with people’s economy, small, micro entrepreneurs, farmers, how we work with them, and this is the type that he thinks is the new Indonesia. We need to cater to both sides, spectrums of the new Indonesia.
MR: Interesting. When you look at Prabowo the man, the type of leader he will be, is he democratic or is he authoritarian? His past certainly …
SU: I would say firmly he is democratic, and he has stated a few times, and I think one of your colleagues was in Ciparay – one vote, one man: satu orang, satu vote, and that is what he’s carrying. A lot of media reports say that he may be distancing from that concept. I think he’s firmly in that concept, and he kept on saying that either you’re a general or you’re a farmer, one vote. So that concept is deeply in him.
Secondly is this: if he wants to be an authoritarian, he had so many chances in the past. I think he’s completely a reformed man, and he believes in it – that democracy is a foundation of Indonesia, and this is where his message is getting across. People believe in him, that democracy must be equipped with a strong government because if democracy is not equipped with a strong government, you will have chaos.
MR: What about human rights violations? This is something that’s dogged him in this campaign.
SU: It did not dog him in 2009.
MR: It didn’t …
SU: So you see where politics … and this is a new Indonesia. He has to face the reality, and I think he is ready. He answered that in the first debate. He was getting attacked from the other side. He addressed it, and he said, “I terminated my services with honor” and he still receives pension from the government. And he kept all his honor medals. So I guess politics is one thing and reality is another.
He is committed in terms of upholding human rights, and I think he is very, very staunch believer that the rule of law has to be uphold.
MR: What about foreign investors? They will play a large role in Indonesia now, and when the momentum began with Prabowo – Prabowo’s rise in terms of voter perception, it spooked foreign investors. How did you react?
SU: Foreign investors are just like any other investors, just like Indonesian investors as well. Basically, they were seeing a 20% lead of the other side. They are comfortable. They like certain things. I guess they are spooked now because they did not see this resurgence and dwindling lead. And now some surveys said that we have crossed, and some say it’s neck and neck. I guess once the election is over, once Prabowo delivers on his promise, and once his 100 days plan and his cabinet shows what he really promised – foreign technocrats, good professionals, the best people – and he would reach out to the other side for their best talents to join the government – I think the confidence will come back.
Investors will not be able to ignore Indonesia. This is such a great investment destination. We’re anchoring the ASEAN 2015 economic community. You’ve got to be in Indonesia to invest because this is where the market is. This is where the potential will be.
MR: If Prabowo wins, what kind of leader will he be for Indonesia in a global world, in ASEAN.
SU: I think he’s going to be active. He’s going to be… our political platform is active and independent. He will be taking an active role. I think in the 3rd debate it came out, and he said that 1,000 friends are not enough and 1 enemy is already too many. And he said that we would be active. We would seek our friends, our neighbors in terms of how Indonesia can contribute to ASEAN and contribute also to the world. Because the world and ASEAN need a strong Indonesia. China needs a strong Indonesia. China needs a partner. India needs a strong Indonesia. India needs a partner. And we’ve been great trading partners, and if we could be great diplomatic partners, it could create stability in the whole of ASEAN and in other regions as well, and this is the type of leadership that I think the world is going to benefit from if Prabowo is elected on the 9th of July.
MR: So you see Indonesia taking a larger role on a global stage?
SU: Definitely, definitely. I think he’s a cosmopolitan. He lives abroad. He comes from a family that embraced a very active, international world – although during election time, he sounds very nationalistic, but I think he’s very broad-based. He’s progressive. He speaks the languages, and he has the DNA to be an active, international player.
MR: It’s a changed world. There are lots of threats both internally and internationally. What are the main threats?
SU: I think what Prabowo sees first is Indonesia. You need to have a prosperous Indonesia, whereby Indonesia can feed her people and can be independent in energy needs, build energy structures and so on and so forth. Make sure the gini ratio doesn’t widen to unprecedented level. He needs to reach out to the bottom of the pyramid. So once that is established, he would basically cater to how Indonesia is going to play a role in the region as well as internationally. So we’re excited. We hope we can get a mandate on the 9th of July.
MR: How realistic is this ASEAN Economic Community …
SU: Well, it’s a deal that was signed in 2001, and we cannot go back on that. That’s reality, and I think people are – are we ready, well some courts will say we’re not ready, but some say that we’re ready. So I guess, Prabowo, our government will be firm in saying that ok, ready or not, it’s right there in front of our door, and we’ve got to embrace it. And we’ve got to basically see this as an opportunity for us, and we’ve got to really be strong so that our market, not only the attractions of our friendly neighbors but also our strengths in terms of accessing other opportunities in other parts of ASEAN.
MR: The last part in terms of geopolitics is – the US is actually pulling back a little bit. You’ve got ASEAN coming together. You’ve got a very aggressive China. How does the Prabowo camp – if it wins, how do you see Asia, the world shaping up?
SU: I think it’s changing a lot. There are some discussions on the South China Sea. I think it’s very clear Prabowo sees Indonesia as – because of 240 million, 3rd largest democracy, country with the largest Muslim population – we do have a responsibility and we need to, you know, once we’re strong internally, we need to step up. And we cannot see the other side, what they’re saying is a very opportunistic way of dealing with the international situation. We need to be strategically present in the areas that we see that may pose some instability to the region and basically ASEAN. If you see China, and China is not only aggressive on trading, investments, but they are also expanding their scope. This would need to be understood very well. Indonesia needs to learn about the issue. China needs to learn about the new Indonesia. I mean we can select our friends, but we cannot choose our neighbors. We are neighbors by default, we are neighbors so we need to be good so we have stability and the people would benefit if we have stability because economy would be rising and trade and investments would follow.
MR: It’s so interesting to see the rising momentum of the Prabowo campaign because it seems to reflect this – a yearning for strength and stability. In India, India elected Modi, something that you wouldn’t have thought possible 2 decades ago. I mean is this zeitgeist? Do you agree with this?
SU: I think we downplay the strength and stability a lot. We’re here, and people have to give credit to SBY, why Indonesia is growing and is very flourishing in terms of economic development …
MR: But he’s also been criticized …
SU: He’s been criticized, but what he brings is stability. Stability for the last 10 years was basically very evident, and he basically laid down the foundations for a clean government, for progress in Indonesia, and he’s able to pretty much make sure that stability is present. So Indonesians 2 months ago did not realize that strength and stability is a big key, and now they’re realizing it. And you’re seeing across Java, across Sumatra, other parts of Indonesia, that the yearning for a very strong leader that symbolizes Indonesia’s potentials and hopefully will bring Indonesia to greatness.
MR: Last few days before elections, your thoughts – what needs to happen?
SU: We need to continue the momentum. We cannot be complacent. Some numbers suggest that we now have the lead. I think we – numbers are numbers, but we need to keep on working hard delivering the messages to the people, make sure they come on the 9th of the July and vote, and this is what Indonesians are going to have to choose on the 9th of July, and we believe Indonesia will choose strength and stability.
MR: If the margin is so small, what are the possibilities of violence?
SU: I think our democracy is maturing. If our elites are mature enough, I think there won’t be any violence.
MR: Thank you so much.