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INDONESIA POLL: Jokowi comes of age, Prabowo aged by his past

Publication Date : 10-06-2014


In the run-up to last night’s presidential candidate debate, the conventional wisdom among constituents was that Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was a softly spoken leader with a quiet assertiveness, while Prabowo Subianto was the leadership figure reared with a military background.

After making a career out of quips and anecdotes, many wondered whether the former mayor of Surakarta could hold his own against the strong figure of a trained and experienced military officer.

It is hard to be truly neutral in such a decisive election season, but any objective analysis would have to conclude that Jokowi and his running mate Jusuf Kalla more than stood their ground in the debate.

It was a display of quiet confidence from the frontrunner, whose unobtrusive Javanese mannerisms will suit the majority of voters who want forthright answers but are reluctant to witness backbiting.

It was also a masterful display of strategy to let Jokowi reinforce his image as a humble figure while allowing Kalla to address the more “difficult” questions. What the public did get a glimpse of was that Jokowi not only portrayed his established image, but was knowledgeable too.

His reply, when pressed on the issue of the expansion of regional administrations, showed a clear line of thinking toward what is to come.

The twosome reminded us just why the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration worked better in its first term.

And as they double-teamed in their presentations last night, one can imagine how complementarily the Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla pairing would work in government.

Obviously this first debate was mostly bereft of real substance. It was the first time that 250 million Indonesians got a chance to window-shop the two candidates side by side.

Image-wise, Jokowi showed he could look as presidential in a suit as he can look the everyman in his iconic plaid shirt.

Meanwhile Prabowo seemed to be a throwback to the past in his all-white attire with a large Garuda brooch on his chest. His voice seemed shaky and broken, lacking the thunderous tone people associate with his Sukarno-like imagery.

Both candidates mostly answered with platitudes. Initially playing it safe. Other than style, it was hard to distinguish between the two. But halfway into the debate we started to be able to glimpse the deepest strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ characters.

As the debate progressed with a mild yawn at the normative responses, a question was posed by Kalla on how his opponent would protect the future and resolve “past” human rights abuses.

Posing that question signified two things. First, that Jokowi and Kalla were ready to tackle difficult and uncomfortable issues and, second, that it reminded the present generation that sacrifices of Reformasi in 1998 were just as propelled by a desire for accountability and rights.

It was a question that Prabowo took personally, and one could see he was struggling to keep his emotions in check before a televised audience. His answers became personal as it was a personal affront to him.

Even though Kalla made no specific reference, Prabowo replied: “I know where you’re heading [with the question]”.

The Prabowo camp over the last few days has been dogged by the much-forgotten facts of Prabowo’s dismissal from military service in 1998.

A scanned document signed by members of the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) Officers Honorary Council (DKP), tasked with hearing the cases of Prabowo’s complicity in the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998, revealed that the former Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) commander was also fired from his position due to insubordination.

Prabowo’s response to the question last night was pitiful and sadly unremorseful. He insisted that he did his best as a soldier and that it was up to his superiors to judge.

Inexplicitly, he was acknowledging “whatever” he did in his past — which is filled with allegations of rights abuses — and that he had no remorse.

His example of a security approach in handling threats in Singapore confirmed his militaristic style, which becomes suspect in a liberal democratic climate.

It was also hard to be convinced of Prabowo’s statements on protecting plurality.

While Jokowi and Kalla could easily point to their past factual records, one is hard pressed not to connote the candidate clad in white with the uniform of right-wing religious thugs who have openly endorsed and campaigned for Prabowo.

So who was the winner of this first debate in a five-round series?

It was the Indonesian people, because they can now begin to judge for themselves the true nature of the stark choice before them on July 9.


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