‘What are unicorns?’: Indonesia candidate stumbles on tech jargon

Prabowo Subianto falters after President Joko Widodo asks him about policies to support start-up companies in TV debate.

Indonesia''s presidential candidate Joko Widodo shakes hands with his opponent Prabowo Subianto after the second debate between presidential candidates ahead of the next general election in Jakarta
The second debate focused on infrastructure, the environment and natural resources [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto has faltered during the second presidential debate ahead of the country’s April elections when his opponent, incumbent President Joko Widodo, used tech jargon in a question.

In the televised event on Sunday night, Joko asked Prabowo about his policies to support “unicorns”, a term for start-up companies valued at more than $1bn.

A look of bafflement passed across the former general’s face, who then replied: “What are unicorns? You mean those online things?” 


Following an affirmative nod by Widodo, Subianto then began engaging in nationalist rhetoric about capital flight.

“If we’re not careful, the enthusiasm for internet things, e-commerce and other e-things, will speed up the flight of domestic money to other countries,” he said.

Subianto was probably not alone in his ignorance of the term, but Widodo’s supporters gleefully seized on the exchange as proof of his lack of qualification to be president – following the debate, Twitter and Facebook were filled with unicorn memes.

In one, juxtaposed photos of the two candidates with thought bubbles above their heads showed Widodo projecting tech start-up logos and Subianto imagining the magical horned horse creature. 

Indonesia has several “unicorns”, transforming areas of the national economy such as transport and shopping.

Forest fires

Sunday night’s debate was the second of five televised face-offs between the opposing candidates before the vote on April 17.

It focused on infrastructure, the environment and natural resources, but neither candidate talked about climate change. 


During the event, Widodo touted his government’s success in overcoming forest fires, which produce smog that often affects neighbouring countries.

“We don’t want forest fires to happen again,” he said. “Over the past three years, there have been no forest and peat fires,” he said.

But environmental campaigning group Greenpeace disputed the president’s claim. “The fact is since the tragic forest fires of 2015, forest and agricultural fires have happened every year,” Greenpeace said on Twitter.

Indonesia’s annual dry season fires were particularly disastrous in 2015, burning 2.6 million hectares of land and spreading health-damaging haze across Indonesia, Singapore, southern Thailand and Malaysia.

The upcoming presidential election is a repeat of the 2014 vote when Widodo narrowly defeated Subianto after a divisive campaign period.

Opinion polls show Widodo about 20 percentage points ahead of Subianto.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies