Indonesia presidential candidates stress commitment to defence spending

Indonesia presidential candidates stress commitment to defence spending
Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo (L) shakes hands with his opponent Prabowo Subianto after a debate in Jakarta June 15, 2014.

BOTH presidential candidates stressed their commitment to boost defence spending to secure Indonesia's borders amid heightened geopolitical tensions in the region, but insisted they would put diplomacy first in resolving border and other disputes.

Speaking at the third presidential debate ahead of the July 9 election, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo said the archipelagic nation needed to deploy drones to protect its borders and maritime wealth and detect illegal fishing and logging, as well as to improve the welfare of its soldiers.

Former general Prabowo Su- bianto did not go into specifics, but said diplomacy works only if the country has the ability to defend its natural wealth and land. "If others claim our seas, can we defend them or not? If others claim our islands, inhabit them, can we push them back?"

Indonesia allocated 83.4 trillion rupiah (S$8.3 billion), less than 1 per cent of gross domestic product, to defence spending this year. Both men pledged to increase the budget if elected.

"If our economy grows above 7 per cent, in four to five years our military budget can triple," Mr Joko added.

Neither candidate fully addressed moderator Hikmahanto Juwana's question about how they would modernise equipment without alarming other countries.

But the candidates displayed a degree of mastery of the topic - foreign policy and defence.

Given Mr Prabowo's military background, it is seen as "normal" that he would perform well, University of Indonesia academic Vishnu Juwono told The Straits Times.

But it was also the first time that many heard Mr Joko talk about foreign and defence issues, he added, noting that "how articulate he was gives confidence he could be a credible commander-in-chief and astute diplomat".

Mr Joko expressed regret at the deaths of at least 16 Indonesian migrant workers in two boat accidents last week. Protecting an estimated 6.5 million Indonesians abroad had to be a key focus, he said. The selection, training and placement of migrant workers had to be regulated. And Indonesian diplomatic missions must monitor the well-being of those abroad regularly.

Mr Prabowo took the issue a step further by saying: "The root of the problem is abject poverty in parts of our country."

However, he agreed with Mr Joko's proposal to certify workers, saying that there are many who are smuggled or illegally trafficked abroad.

This article was first published on June 23, 2014.
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