Interview #1: Presidential politics and Indonesian palm oil

We've been chatting with Malaysia and Singapore palm oil industry specialists and noticed significant interest in the upcoming Indonesia Presidential vote. Early in the week, we had the opportunity to talk to a Khor Reports reader who was interested to talk about it, and so we present to you this interview. 

Political changes can bring major shifts in resource development policies as well as a different approach to NGOs such as seen in Australia. On the buy side, in major consuming countries, we should note the rise of right wing nationalistic parties who gained more power especially in the European Parliament.

Interviewee #1: Indonesian voter, palm oil industry senor manager, who was part of the student demonstrations in the 1998 ousting of Suharto. A Jokowi supporter.
#1 on the Presidential ballot is Prabowo-Hatta  and #2 is Jokowi-Kalla. The Presidential election is on 6 July 2014 (in just over 3 weeks time). 

What do you think of the recent poll numbers?

40% of Indonesia voters are undecided. Jokowi has a 10% lead. In the USA that would be a win, but Indonesians can decide at the last minute. Indonesians won’t take your money and vote for you like what we hear about Malaysia. There was a famous case where Rp 150,000 (US$14-15) bribe was given at a local election – that candidate just got three votes and he hired a debt collector to try to get back his money!

What's an important issue in Indonesia elections?
A major political lesson from 1998 is not to let food staples prices get out hand. Indonesia pays attention to "sembako"[1] which comprises 9 items, including rice, flour, eggs, milk, oil, sugar etc.  

What is Prabowo's plaftform?
He says that Indonesia is weak. Its riches has been taken by others. Indonesia has been bullied by Malaysia, Singapore, USA and others. It needs a strong leader who can say no and stand up to them. Like in the old days. He tells voters that Indonesia’s riches will go back to Indonesians. He will start nationalising industries. On corruption: he proposes to increase civil servants pay. On plantations: 5 million more hectares should be developed – you don’t need to conserve forest as this retards economic development. Prabowo is funded by business conglomerates, including his brother’s. He also gets money from Bakrie, and MNC media (he’s featured on 5 out of 6 major TV channels; only 1, Metro[2] features Jokowi).

The younger generation demonstrated on streets to topple Suharto. I shall never vote Prabowo as he ordered protestors shot. The “Jangan Lupa” Facebook campaign aims out to remind people about what Prabowo did in the past. Pro Jokowi army insiders recently leaked information that Prabowo was fired and left under a cloud. He is suing the army for leaking that letter. I am still worried that people will forget what he has done. This letter is not featured heavily in the major news.

What does Jokowi stand for?
Jokowi is about transparency, anti-corruption and a new way of thinking. On corruption: he says that pay should be based on merit and that the government should put all information online for the people to see. On plantations: he's for stability for the environment and development. Jokowi is using Obama-style campaign funding[3] – social media funding. From such donations he has raised Rupiah 17.2 billion (US$1.45 million @11,835). He’s not on significant business funding. Now that he has some money, his posters are up all over. Prabowo is suing him as he says that Indonesian law does not allow such public financing.

Jokowi uses the “good cop – bad cop” approach. When he was Governor of Jakarta, his public image was to visit the people while his vice/deputy was the tough guy. Now, Basuki  is Acting Governor of Jakarta – he is an ethnic Chinese; Muslim parties had protested against having a Chinese governor but the public said it had no problem with this. Basuki is a no nonsense guy. 

Christian support is going for Jokowi. FPI is a vigilante group attacking churches, going around demonstrating for Shariah law, shouting at Muslim women not wearing a headscarf and vandalising stores selling Christian objects. FPI is publicly supporting Prabowo and seeking Shariah in several provinces. Jokowi is saying that Indonesia is a diverse country and will not be drawn into such religious Shia argument. Shariah is only in Acheh.  

How did the 9 June debate go?
In the presidential debate[4], Jusuf Kalla was placed as the attacker; Jokowi spoke first to set the vision and positive messages. The winner of debate was Kalla as he nailed Prabowo until he couldn’t answer on his human rights record. Some thought the presidential debate was against traditional (less confrontational) cultural modes. Some asked why Jokowi spoke from notes. Prabowo spoke 90% of the time and his vice/deputy had 10% speaking time. Jokowi took about 60% and 40% went to Kalla in debating time.

What are the implications for Indonesia palm oil?
On 5 million hectares for oil palm development - this is part of Prabowo's campaign and it was also from the Bakrie program. But this may not all go to smallholders and it may not be good for the (Indonesia-Norway) Moratorium.

On Indonesia CPO export duty removal rumour – the CPO export duty was supposed to go to the farmers and industry; but there’s not much proof of this. How much has been spent in this way? Many say that it did not even go to the Ministry of Agriculture. As an Indonesian voter, I would support the CPO export duty removal as we don’t know where the money goes. As a palm oil industry person, I would also support its removal as it would bring a level playing field to the industry.

On NGOs in Indonesia - Indonesia ministries are keen to do something about the NGO incursion in Indonesia palm oil. President SBY is widely seen as a supporter of Greenpeace. Its “License to Kill” report against Wilmar quotes SBY a lot. SBY has also visited the Greenpeace boat[5].  Under the next presidency – can TFT and Greenpeace move about so freely in Indonesia? A key SBY advisor is a Greenpeace member. Did this advisor bring the 20% carbon reduction policy? Such a self-imposed policy by a developing country is surprising.

Note: Graphics from Greenpeace in May-June 2013.
Khor Reports note: This precedes significant new palm oil buying policy by Unilever in November 2013 and Singapore-based Wilmar in December 2013 with The Forest Trust, associated with Greenpeace in palm oil first via its work with Singapore-listed Golden-Agri Resources / PT SMART (Sinar Mas). Despite the NGO-government engagement and NGO-corporate deals, anti-palm oil campaigns continue: Protect Paradise: An Animation about Palm Oil by Greenpeace, 19 Feb 2014: and a video produced by the KBRI (Indonesian Embassy) of Brussels to fight against the anti-palm oil campaign. Protect Paradise For All: An Animation on Anti-Palm Oil Dirty Secret, 14 May 2014:

So there's concern in Indonesia about foreign influence amidst nationalistic feeling?
Foreigners are seen to be “campaigning” for Jokowi. Prabowo points out that Jokowi is accepting undue foreign influence. But there has been no evidence of foreign funding for Jokowi. Voters may notice he spends time with foreigners. For example, when Jokowi cycled to work, the Sweden and Norway ambassadors cycled along with him. Their embassies were not even near the Governor’s office.

A minimum 20% vote is needed to nominate a presidential candidate. PDIP got 18.9% and it had to build a coalition to nominate Jokowi. Prabowo got 11% and he had to build an even bigger coalition with the National Amendment Party who provides his VP. PDIP is a nationalistic party – it is founded on Sukarno’s idealism for diversity, nationalism, and a strong independent country. Prabowo has been talking a lot about this too. Jokowi will have a rising nationalistic streak. He cannot issue laws without coalition support.

Jokowi might try to limit what NGOs are doing in Indonesia, but he’s an open and transparent person, so he may put more limits on NGOs, but in a reasonable manner. Jokowi will run country like he did Jakarta – every meeting he and his vice /deputy has had is on youtube. Prabowo will be different.

Related news:

[1] sembilan bahan pokok are nine basic materials abbreviated as groceries covering basic needs. Set out by the Minister of Industry and Trade as: 1. rice, sago and corn,  2. sugar, 3.vegetables and fruits, 4.beef and chicken, 5. cooking oil and margarine, 6. milk, 7. eggs, 8. mineral oil or LPG gas, 9. salt.
[2] Metro is owned by Surya Paloh, head of the National Democratic Party – who did not get enough votes in the first round results. He threw his support with PDI-P behind Jokowi.
[3] Some campaign funding information here -
[4] Five debates are scheduled between June 8 and July 5. 9 June debate can be viewed here: and impact on voter sentiment is reported here:
[5] "Just a few hours ago, we met the President again, but this time on our iconic ship, the Rainbow Warrior, which is winding up a one-month tour through Indonesia raising awareness about the need to protect Indonesia's forests and oceans. The President visited the ship with the First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, his daughter-in-law, granddaughter and nearly half his cabinet including Ministers of Environment, Forestry, Fisheries, Foreign Affairs, the Cabinet Secretary, head of Indonesian Navy, Armed Forces and Police. It is a remarkable recognition of our work in Indonesia and of course a validation of our work to protect the country's rich environment..."  "Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo aboard the activist group's ship, the Rainbow Warrior, today in Jakarta to discuss Indonesia's environmental issues. The meeting took place 31 months after the Rainbow Warrior was barred from Indonesian waters under pressure from interests in the forestry sector.  Remarks from the Indonesian president while aboard the vessel underline the country's policy shift in forest management since 2010…..

Note: In Indonesia, the President is directly voted by the electorate and it takes over 50% of the public vote to win. There is no mediation by an electoral college which exists in places like the US. In Malaysia the Prime Minister is selected by the coalition which won power (in Malaysia’s mal-apportioned, first past the post electoral system, there is disconnect between the public popular vote which went to the opposition but with majority of seats staying with the ruling coalition) The Indonesia legislature does not have power to select the president, but they can impeach him. The upper house is purely for constitutional matters.