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Indonesian Defence Ministry newspaper ad raises questions on ethical use of state funds in election promotions

An advertisement by Indonesia’s Ministry of Defence in daily newspaper Kompas, showcasing Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, sparks controversy over potential misuse of state funds in election-related promotions.

Appearing a day after a presidential debate critiquing Prabowo’s defence minister role, the ad faces criticism for its timing and content.

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INDONESIA: A full-page advertisement by the Ministry of Defence (Kemhan) of Indonesia in the reputable daily newspaper Kompas, featuring the face and success claims of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, has ignited controversy and raised concerns about the ethical use of state funds in election-related promotions.

The advertisement, which appeared on Monday (8 Jan), just a day after the presidential candidate debate that scrutinized Prabowo’s performance as defence minister, has drawn criticism for its timing and content.

While the Kompas management asserts that the ad is unrelated to Prabowo’s potential candidacy in the 2024 Presidential Election, election experts argue that the use of state funds for presidential candidate promotion is problematic.

Regulatory gaps expose potential misuse of state resources in electoral campaigns

The controversy stems from the absence of detailed regulations from the General Election Commission (KPU) explicitly prohibiting the publication of materials related to presidential or vice-presidential candidates holding state positions.

Titi Anggraini, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), emphasizes the need for specific regulations to prevent the misuse of state resources for electoral purposes.

The lack of clear regulations, according to Titi, allows presidential candidates and their affiliates to exploit state budgets and public positions freely for electoral gains.

She cites the need for the KPU to regulate and ensure that government programs exposed to the public do not feature election candidates, maintaining fairness and equality in the presidential race.

Titi points to the existing Election Law (UU 7/2017) as having provisions that could address this issue.

However, she notes that the KPU has not referred to these articles to create detailed regulations prohibiting the publication of state institutions showcasing presidential or vice-presidential candidates.

Article 282 of the Election Law explicitly prohibits state officials from making decisions or taking actions that benefit or harm any election participant during the campaign period.

Furthermore, Article 283 prohibits public officials from engaging in activities that show favouritism towards election participants before, during, and after the campaign period.

Controversial ads published following Prabowo’s opponents criticize his performance as defence minister

The controversial Kemhan advertisement, titled “Impressive Achievements of the Ministry of Defense, Efforts to Safeguard the Independence and Integrity of the Nation,” features a large photo of Prabowo alongside President Joko Widodo.

The ad highlights Prabowo’s claimed achievements in defence diplomacy, defence industry, modernization of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, human resources development in defence, educational system development through the Defense University, and a clean water project for the community.

The advertisement’s controversy is not only attributed to being “commissioned and funded by Kemhan” but also due to its appearance immediately after the Presidential Candidate Debate that critiqued Prabowo’s responsibilities as the Defence Minister.

During the debate, presidential candidates Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan criticized Prabowo’s performance as below average.

Ganjar gave him a score of “5 out of 10,” while Anies rated Prabowo’s performance as “11 out of 100.”

Kompas denies campaign affiliation for Prabowo’s ad

Harian Kompas denies presenting the Prabowo Subianto advertisement as a presidential campaign ad, asserting that it focuses on Kemhan’s achievements.

Fidelis Novan Terryan, General Manager of Integrated Marketing and Branding at Kompas, explained that they received the ad material from the Ministry of Defense and defended its acceptance, emphasizing the differences in format between the ad and journalistic articles.

Fidelis clarified that Kompas received the Kemhan ad material before the Presidential Candidate Debate on Sunday (7 Jan), and the content remained unchanged afterward.

He expressed confidence that Kompas has not violated any rules and welcomed any contact or reprimand from the Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) or the KPU if there were violations related to advertising.

Ministers competing in Election urged to take leave or step down during 75-day campaign period

Perludem’s Titi Anggraini believes that the controversy surrounding the Kemhan ad in Kompas is a result of a series of ambiguous regulations.

She points out a Constitutional Court decision in October 2022, which stated that state officials do not need to resign from their positions as long as they obtain approval and leave permission from the President.

Titi argues that such controversies could be avoided if President Jokowi commits to supporting a fair, honest, and equitable presidential election.

She suggests that the President should request ministers competing in the election to take a full leave or step down during the 75-day campaign period.

As the media gears up for the start of the presidential campaign on 21 January 2024, Titi contends that the public should not rely solely on the media to reject controversial ads.

Media companies face the dilemma of balancing the need for revenue with unclear regulations, making it challenging to refuse politically nuanced ads.

Titi emphasizes the role of the KPU and the Bawaslu in addressing controversies like the Kemhan advertisement, urging them to take proactive measures to ensure fair, honest, and equal competition.

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Rightly so. Maybe their election to promote themselves should come from their own pocket instead of using State Funds and cos burden to the People Welfare.

But I doubt they will take up the idea … As then they can’t “Ride” on state fund for their agenda.

Then call citizens “Free rider” somemore … Dunno who riding HEAVILY on State apparatus.

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