The first presidential debate scheduled for Thursday night, which will see President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Ma’ruf Amin square off against Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto and running mate Sandiaga Uno, is set to revolve around issues related to law, corruption, terrorism and human rights.
Analysts say that both camps have plenty of fodder to throw at each other across the four topics, singling out law and human rights in particular as the most potentially contentious issues.
Jokowi pledged in his 2014 presidential campaign to resolve past human rights violations, but activists and experts have criticized the incumbent for not making any apparent breakthroughs to resolve the past atrocities.
The President has also been attacked by opposition activists for allegedly criminalizing ulema and vocal critics of his administration, such as Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab and musician Ahmad Dhani.
Meanwhile, Prabowo has long raised deep concerns among human rights activists for his alleged links to the forced disappearances of 13 prodemocracy activists between 1997 and 1998 in his capacity as then-commander of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus).
Lingkar Madani political analyst Ray Rangkuti, however, doubted that either pair would be too aggressive in pursuing human rights issues.
“I think it is the weakest area for both candidates, so both will likely be more passive,” he told The Jakarta Post. “If Jokowi is attacked on past human rights violations or legal cases involving [pro-opposition activists], he can counter with the kidnapping allegations and vice versa.”
On the topic of corruption, the debate is expected to turn into a battle between Jokowi’s boasts on what he has done in the last five years and Prabowo’s offer for a change in strategies to eradicate corruption once and for all, said the Gadjah Mada University’s Corruption Studies Center director Zainal Arifin Mochtar.
“For example, the President might brag about his push for a more aggressive strategy for fighting corruption, including the formation of the Illegal Levy Eradication Task Force [Saber Pungli],” he said.
The special team has uncovered more than 800 cases since its establishment in 2016.
On the other hand, Zainal said Prabowo might emphasize, among other issues, the rampant corruption across the country and the failure of Jokowi’s administration to eradicate such crimes for good.
The President has also been under pressure from the public to speed up the investigation into an acid attack against Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan on April 11, 2017, which has been left unsolved for more than a year without any significant progress.
Transparency International Indonesia secretary-general Dadang Trisasongko said the opposition pair might have the upper hand during the debate if they raised the acid attack.
In mid-2017, the House of Representatives launched a controversial inquiry to prove allegations that the antigraft body had abused its power. Jokowi’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was a vocal supporter of the investigation at that time.
At the height of the crisis, Jokowi refused to intervene — a stance that appeared inconsistent with his promise to defend and reinforce the KPK.
“Thus, Jokowi’s supporting parties became a liability in the anticorruption perspective,” Dadang said.
However, he added that the incumbent might be able to counter the attacks by pointing out that Prabowo’s Gerindra Party had among the highest number of ex-graft convicts contesting in the 2019 legislative elections. It is tied with the Golkar Party with six politicians running in the election who were once jailed for corruption.
He expected Jokowi to have the upper hand on terrorism as the frequency and scale of terrorist attacks have declined during his administration.
Tonight, The Jakarta Post will be live-tweeting from the first presidential debate for the 2019 election at 8 p.m. Do not miss out!#jakpost #PresidentialDebate #IndonesiaVotes#DebatPilpresPertama pic.twitter.com/Ly9Y4XNlSE— The Jakarta Post (@jakpost) January 17, 2019
Jokowi said he and running mate Ma’ruf Amin were well-prepared to answer all questions during the debate, including those related to the settlement of past human rights abuse cases and Novel’s case.
“We will answer [the questions] tomorrow [Thursday],” Jokowi told reporters, adding that his camp would also refer to data and facts in their statements. “Another important [strategy is to explain] our plans for the future.”
Ma’ruf, who received special training from his campaign team to sharpen his political communication skills, said that among the key ideas the pair would deliver during the debate was that Indonesia was a country that upheld the rule of law.
“We uphold the supremacy of the law as well as an independent and impartial judiciary, and that all citizens are equal before the law,” he said.
Gerindra executive Andre Rosiade said Prabowo and Sandiaga, along with their coaching team, had been finalizing their preparations for the debate and held several simulations since Tuesday, including “on what Prabowo will say regarding the solution to eradicating corruption”.
“The simulations are important, but we have not prepared an attack on [Jokowi-Ma’ruf]. To attack each other is not our culture. We just want to explain our programs and innovations,” he said.