A dull debate? A debut

The three presidential candidates made more promises during the historic live television "debate" Thursday evening and offered shaky performances at the start of the show.

During the debate, former president Megawati Soekarnoputri emphasized the need to build a culture that rejected corruption, incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono promised to raise defense spending on military weapons, and incumbent Vice President Jusuf Kalla vowed to set a timetable to speedup public service reform.

The three candidates shared their views in a two-and-a-half-hour TV show.

Anies Baswedan, Paramadina University's rector, moderated the debate while commenting on issues of good governance, the rule of law and human rights.

Many were disappointed the debate did not heat up as had been expected, with candidates preferring to agree with their rivals' remarks rather than propose concrete solutions.

While Megawati and Yudhoyono looked nervous, Kalla seemed more relaxed and made a few jokes during the commercial breaks.

"Give me a bucket and a towel," Kalla joked during the break - alluding to a boxing match - when the bell rang. Yudhoyono replied by asking for a mouth guard.

The audience at TransTV studio were entertained during the breaks, while candidates talked to their "ringside" coaches and had their makeup fixed. Kalla was seen being massaged by one of his advisers, while Megawati spoke to her daughter Puan Maharani and Yudhoyono discussed with his campaign team member Hatta Radjasa.

When asked how the candidates would address widespread corruption in the public service sector, Kalla, who is also chairman of the Golkar Party, said he would introduce a timetable and a performance assessment scheme to encourage public servants to improve the quality of the services they provided.

Yudhoyono, chief patron of the Democratic Party, added the public should also receive more information about the services they were entitled to.

Megawati said measures aimed at improving public services would not be successful without strengthening educational institutions.

With regards to military spending, Yudhoyono vowed that if re-elected, he would gradually increase the military budget from the current Rp 35 trillion to an "ideal" Rp 120 trillion (US$11.8 billion), in the next five years, as the country's economy was expected to grow.

In the mean time, he would prioritize spending on the military's operational and maintenance activities over purchasing new equipment.

Kalla said besides increasing the budget, existing military weaponry should be renewed, unusable weapons should be shelved, and Indonesia should produce its own arsenal.

Megawati, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, said the military budget increase should be prioritized because it was very closely related to the nation's sovereignty.

When addressing problems plaguing Indonesian migrant workers, the former president said protective measures should start at home: Migrant workers should be well prepared and carefully selected before being allowed to leave the country.

Yudhoyono said partnerships with destination countries should be strengthened when dealing with migrant worker issues, while Kalla added that Indonesia should hire lawyers and place them in areas that have large numbers of Indonesian migrant workers, such as several Malaysian and Saudi Arabia cities.

The three candidates also responded to questions about past human rights crimes, the much-delayed deliberation of the corruption court bill, and the settlement of the Sidoarjo mudflow case in East Java.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) chairman Abdul Hafiz Anshary said the 2008 Law on Presidential Election mandated the presidential election debate.

He said the KPU would organize five debates until July 2: Three debates for presidential candidates and two for vice presidential candidates. The KPU has set July 3-7 as the cooling down period before the election day on July 8.

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