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Jakarta Post

Presidential candidates turn up the heat in first election debate

  • Hasyim Widhiarto and Sita W. Dewi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta/Jayapura   /   Mon, June 9, 2014   /  08:46 am

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential candidate Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo may have no match in terms of popularity in the weeks leading up to the July 9 presidential election, but when it comes to presidential debates, the non-active Jakarta governor has admitted that he needs a little help from the experts.

Jokowi'€™s presidential campaign team secretary, Andi Widjajanto, said a group of experts from different backgrounds had been deployed to assist and brief Jokowi prior to the presidential debates, including when the former Surakarta mayor was travelling on the campaign trail.

 '€œ[Lawyer] Alexander Lay accompanied Jokowi during his recent visit to Jayapura, Papua, as legal issues will be among the topics raised during the [first] presidential debate on [Monday] June 9,'€ Andi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) will hold five debates between the two presidential candidates and their running mates between Monday and July 5. Monday'€™s debate, which will be broadcast live by SCTV, Indosiar and BeritaSatu, will cover the candidates'€™ respective visions, missions and programs on issues relating to democracy, clean governance, law and human rights.

Apart from Alexander, other experts preparing Jokowi for his debates, according to Andi, were Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) economist Iman Sugema; former forestry minister Muhammad Prakosa; Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) executive director Rizal Sukma; University of Indonesia (UI) military analyst Edy Prasetyono; Megawati Institute executive director Arif Budimanta; energy expert Darmawan Prasodjo, and Ari Soemarno, former president director of state oil and gas company PT Pertamina.

Another team led by PDI-P lawmaker Maruarar Sirait will help Jokowi and his running mate, former vice president and Golkar Party chairman Jusuf Kalla, to familiarize themselves with the debate method and format.

'€œThe team will arrange a debate simulation prior to the official presidential debate,'€ said Andi, who is also a well-known defense analyst.

In contrast to Jokowi'€™s camp, Gerindra Party chief patron Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi'€™s only rival, was making no special preparation prior to his appearance in the election'€™s maiden debate, according to Golkar lawmaker Nurul Arifin, who serves as a spokesperson for Prabowo'€™s presidential campaign team.

Nurul said Prabowo and his running mate, former coordinating economic minister and National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Hatta Rajasa, were '€œmore than ready'€ and welcomed the debates, as both men had mastered the substance of their vision, mission and programs.

 '€œA quick briefing [before the debate], however, may be needed to help Pak Prabowo on where to pause [within sentences],'€ the actress-turned-politician told the Post.

The majority of approval-rating surveys have so far found the soft-spoken Jokowi to be the strongest candidate for the upcoming presidential election. However, the relatively high number of undecided voters in the weeks prior to the election has given Prabowo, who is well-known for his passionate impromptu speeches, a fighting chance to turn things around.  

On many occasions, Prabowo, whose party allied with the PDI-P to endorse Jokowi'€™s nomination in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial race, said he would maintain his public speaking style despite criticism from political opponents.  

'€œI have received a number of SMS [text messages] telling me to tone down my campaign speeches. ['€¦] I thank [the political] observers and those who have given me such advice. But, I'€™m accountable to the Indonesian people, not to political elites in Jakarta,'€ the former Army lieutenant general said at a gathering with university professors a few days ahead of the April 9 legislative election.

Senior Gerindra politician Martin Hutabarat said he considered Prabowo'€™s skill at public speaking would leave Jokowi floundering.

'€œThe way they recently delivered remarks at the KPU shows that this years'€™ presidential election is between a heavyweight [candidate] and a featherweight [candidate],'€ he said, referring to the candidates'€™ three-minute speeches after they drew their election ballot numbers at KPU headquarters earlier this month.

Andi said, however, that both camps were in a privileged position, adding that he expected high-quality presidential debates.

'€œPrabowo is a strong orator; that is his main strength. He is also very clear about his programs, including on issues related to natural resources. Hatta has worked in the government for quite a while, so he knows very well what the government has done.

'€œMeanwhile, Jokowi has practical experience from governing Surakarta and Jakarta. Pak JK [Jusuf Kalla] is also an experienced [figure]. Both camps are equally strong, so the debates should be interesting,'€ he said.

While Jokowi is officially endorsed by a PDI-P-led coalition including the National Awakening Party (PKB), the NasDem Party and the Hanura Party, Prabowo secured his presidential ticket with support from Gerindra, Golkar, PAN, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party (PPP) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB).  
Golkar politician and public-speaking coach Charles Bonar Sirait, who recently announced his support for Jokowi'€™s presidential nomination, said Jokowi needed to improve his physical endurance to perform best on stage.

'€œIn his recent public appearances, Pak Jokowi appeared to be exhausted and [his face] did not look fresh. This made him look a bit tense,'€ said the former television presenter, who once wrote a national best-selling book titled The Power of Public Speaking.

When asked about his preparation for Monday'€™s presidential debate, Jokowi said all he needed to do was to make sure he was fit.

'€œI am resting when I can and eating three times a day. That'€™s it,'€ he said.

KPU chairman Husni Kamil Manik said on Friday that the commission had invited Surabaya-based Airlangga University political analyst Ramlan Surbakti and Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) political researcher Siti Zuhro to be panelists during Monday'€™s presidential debate. Meanwhile, Gadjah Mada University'€™s (UGM) Corruption Studies Center (PUKAT) director Zainal Arifin Mochtar will serve as the debate'€™s moderator.

Contacted on Saturday, Zainal said he had received a list of questions for Monday'€™s debate that had been jointly compiled by the KPU and representatives from various entities, including NGOs, independent experts and mass organizations.  

'€œI hope the questions will represent what all Indonesians want to know from the competing presidential candidates,'€ he said.