In what has become a pattern for this year’s series of presidential election debates, observers and activists have expressed their disappointment with the lack of attention that many key healthcare, education, manpower, and sociocultural issues received.
But Sunday night’s vice presidential debate between President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s running mate Ma’ruf Amin and Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto’s running mate Sandiaga Uno proved doubly disappointing for many, largely due to the lack of any actual debating on display.
“Last night’s debate was not very satisfying,” education expert Doni Koesoema said in a discussion held by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Central Jakarta on Monday. “There was no real exchange of arguments, only clarifications, discussions and monologues. It was not very educational.”
University of Indonesia social analyst Devie Rahmawati agreed, saying that both vice presidential candidates seemed more concerned with projecting a “polite and Islamic” image than with pitting their policies against each other.
“[Ma’ruf and Sandiaga] both used the debate more to present an attractive persona that might win over some of the voters that they’re after,” she said.
Doni added that while some new ideas had been put forward, most of the policies and proposals mentioned in the debate were “old and recycled.”
“Some of the ideas are very old and should have been developed further,” he said.
He pointed to the back-and-forth between Ma’ruf and Sandiaga about research and development at the beginning of the debate.
“Both candidates talked a lot about increasing the budget for research, and while that is needed, it doesn’t really address the root of the problem,” he said. “The problem actually starts at the very basic level of education. University students find it difficult to even write a complete sentence, let alone finish their thesis.”
Doni also criticized both Jokowi-Ma’ruf’s Pre-Employment Card and Prabowo-Sandiaga’s Ready to Work House proposals, which aim to help high school, vocational school and university graduates transition to the working world.
“Both programs feel like temporary solutions that don’t really take advantage of existing infrastructure,” he said. “For example, there are so many BLK [skills training centers] that already exist that have old instructors and outdated training methods. These BLK could be revitalized and made more attractive for graduates to make use of.”
University of Indonesia economics department head and healthcare researcher Teguh Dartanto said the two vice presidential candidates also failed to address the key issue of immunization in the debate.
“I was very disappointed because this is about preventing diseases in the future,” he said. “Vaccine coverage in Indonesia has gone down since 2013, which is very worrying. This means that there is a real risk of disease outbreaks in the future.”
He added that while the candidates spent a significant amount of time on the National Health Insurance (JKN) program and the massive deficit faced by the Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan), they did not address one of the key roots of the problems: the lack of enrollment.
“Many middle-class people who work in the informal sector have not signed up for BPJS Kesehatan, and many of those that do only do so when they get sick,” he said. “This exacerbates the agency’s deficit.”
Meanwhile, the National Commission on Tobacco Control and the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) both decried the fact that neither candidate brought up the health effects of smoking.
“Smoking is the biggest risk factor that holds Indonesia captive through the high level of non-communicable diseases, high healthcare costs, lack of quality development, and the snare of poverty,” the commission said in a statement on Monday. “The need for reformation of all cigarette control policies in Indonesia has already reached an emergency level.”
“BPJS Kesehatan’s financial deficit has also been been triggered by lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke and hypertension,” YLKI chairman Tulus Abadi said in a statement. “We strongly question the candidates’ decision not to make efforts to prevent the plague of cigarette consumption one of their policy agendas.”
“Looking at the mission statement of both presidential tickets, YLKI strongly doubts that health problems will be holistically addressed and overcome.”