Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls offer populist promises

With sectarian politics expected to be less prominent in the campaign season, the election is now looking to become a battle of populist ideas.

Nur Janti

Nur Janti

The Jakarta Post


Security guards walk in front of flags of political parties participating in the 2024 General Elections at the General Elections Commission headquarters in Jakarta on July 24, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

September 15, 2023

JAKARTA  – Free food for children and pregnant women, free fuel for motorcyclists or a higher salary (up to Rp 30 million [US$1,954]) for teachers? Those are some of the campaign promises that have been made by the presumptive presidential and vice-presidential nominees to voters, which analysts say are largely “unrealistic”.

With sectarian politics expected to be less prominent in the campaign season given that all the presumptive nominees are mainly backed by pro-government parties, the election is now looking to become a battle of populist ideas.

Prabowo Subianto, who is backed by the Onward Indonesia Coaltion (KIM), has not only pledged to raise Indonesia to food self-sufficiency so that the country no longer relies on imports, he will also provide free meals for children and pregnant women, similar to the free food policies in countries like India and the United Kingdom.

“Pak Prabowo is determined to improve the quality of our workforce. So what’s a real and practical thing we can do to achieve that? Pak Prabowo will launch a program that is called free food,” said Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Prabowo’s brother, as quoted by, when asked about the purpose of the program.

Critics have questioned the program’s feasibility, given that it might cost the state more than Rp 300 trillion to fund. “We have done the calculations. If we have a food estate, that’s a small number, if the food estate program works out,” Gerindra executive Habiburokhman said, referring to Prabowo’s food estate initiative.

Read also: Prabowo banks on Jokowi effect to win election

The free food program is only one of the programs proposed by the Prabowo campaign, which has portrayed the former general as the rightful “successor” to the incumbent, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, his sole competitor in the last two presidential elections.

He has promised to continue popular Jokowi programs, such as the Indonesian Health Card (KIS), and the Family Hope Program (PKH), reported. In addition, he has also promised to give civil servants a raise.

Ganjar Pranowo, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential nominee, of which the President is a member, has made it clear that he will continue Jokowi’s pro-people programs. The large voting bloc that he is targeting for votes is the roughly 4 million teachers, who are mostly struggling financially.

The former Central Java governor has pledged to increase teachers’ salaries to Rp 30 million, with entry-level teachers getting a minimum of Rp 10 million.

“This is a breakthrough idea to improve the welfare of teachers,” PDI-P politician Andreas Hugo Pareira said in a statement. “Mas Ganjar sees the importance of education. If you talk about human development then you talk about education, and when you talk about education, the core subject will be the salary and allowances of teachers.”

Read also: PDI-P gives Jokowi clan the cold shoulder

Meanwhile, presumptive presidential candidate Anies Baswedan and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar, who are backed by the Coalition for Change and Unity (KPP), have been more aggressive in their campaign promises. The pair has promised to increase the funding granted for thousands of villages in Jokowi’s signature village fund program from Rp 1.5 billion to Rp 5 billion each year.  Moreover, they have also promised to subsidize fertilizer for farmers who have land of under half a hectare, allowances for pregnant women of Rp 6 million per month, free fuel for motorbike owners and extending the 12-year compulsory education program to 18 years, which means university education will be free.

Muhaimin argues that the state has not yet maximized the use of education funding (about 20 percent of the state budget) to improve national education. “We can still prepare for the 18-year compulsory education program, so up to graduate [level] […], if we are consistent in the sector of education,” he said as quoted by

The arguments posed by the presidential and vice-presidential candidates to justify the feasibility of their programs have failed to convince analysts, however. It is unlikely that the state will have the financial capacity to finance these highly expensive populist programs, according to analysts. “The campaign promises sound cool, but they are not realistic,” said Adi Prayitno, the executive director of Parameter Politik Indonesia. (ahw)

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