Russia denies Indonesia election meddling

Russia has denied any involvement in the Indonesian presidential election, scheduled for April 17, after President Joko Widodo claimed his opponents were using “Russian propaganda” to spread fake news.

“Jokowi” accused the opposition of using dirty tricks to disseminate hateful propaganda with the help of a foreign consultant, which divided the society and raised concern among the public.

“They don’t care whether or not [the propaganda] makes people feel insecure,” Jokowi told a rally in Surabaya.

The relatively popular president said: “Russian propaganda … produces non-stop slander, lies and hoaxes that confuse the people”.

The Russian embassy in Jakarta tweeted a rebuttal.

“As we know, the term ‘Russian propaganda’ was coined in 2016 in the United States during the presidential election. This term has no basis in reality,” said the embassy.

“We underline the principal position of Russia is not to intervene in domestic affairs and electoral processes of foreign countries, including Indonesia, our close friend and important partner.”

The embassy also tweeted photos of President Vladimir Putin with Jokowi during the Asean-Russia summit in Singapore in November.

Widodo did not explain the term “Russian propaganda” nor say if he was accusing the Russians directly.

Indonesia suffers from online fake news, notably during last year’s Sulawesi tsunami.

Jokowi told the event in eastern Java about the rival camp’s hoaxes in this year’s two-horse race, such as misinformation about seven containers of ballot papers from China that had been tampered with to Jokowi’s advantage.

Prabowo Subianto, a former general, is challenging Jokowi in the election, repeating the options for the 2014 contest.

Both sides are preparing for the second presidential election debate between Jokowi and Prabowo, scheduled for February 17.

The president’s campaign team was keen to make it clear that it did not blame Moscow directly.

Spokesman Abdul Kadir Karding said Jokowi did not mean Russia itself but that the political consultant allegedly hired by Prabowo’s team was a Russian.

He said the foreign consultant was believed to have disseminated narratives that alleged the president was a foreign puppet.

In Surabaya, Jokowi mentioned his administration’s economic nationalism. He said he had made efforts to take over foreign-held Indonesian assets, such as achieving Indonesian majority ownership of PT Freeport Indonesia, which exploits the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine in impoverished Papua province.

The allegation of Russian involvement surfaced when Subianto gave a speech on January 14 and a video of him with someone rumoured to be Russian businessman Ariel Israilov spread online.

The Russian embassy denied any involvement with the man in the video.

Prabowo spokesman Dhimam Abror told the media: “We have no foreign consultants.”

Dhimam said Jokowi’s speech was naïve nonsense. “To counter the ‘foreign puppet’ issue, he accused us of employing foreign consultants and concluded that Pak Prabowo is the foreign puppet. [The president’s] logic is shallow.”

President Joko Widodo, who is looking to repeat his 2014 performance, with Vladimir Putin. Picture credit: Kremlin