Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Underbalancing in Asia

International relations scholars have coined the term “underbalacing” to refer to situations in which countries either fail to balance (or align against and confront) against threats or do so in a slow, untimely fashion.

The classic case is World War II. There, the Western powers, exhausted and weary from World War I, were reluctant to balance against the gathering storm of Nazism and rapidly expanding German power. An anti-Hitler coalition was finally cobbled together, but only after Hitler began his march through Europe. The absence of a formal, tight military coalition directed at Germany created a power vacuum in the heart of Europe and resulted in a massive opportunity for Hitler to satisfy his world ambitions.

This logic of underbalancing isn’t just relevant to the history books, however. We can see traces of it in Asia today, and it’s something that bears watching.

There’s much talk nowadays about China shooting itself in the foot with its aggression in the South and East China Seas. The implication is that China’s moves are alienating its friends and driving its rivals together. Sure, this risk is real. And then the real danger comes in the interplay between a cornered and insecure China and an angry anti-China coalition. In this scenario, we could observe a protracted cycle of intra-Asia hostilities, arms racing, and increasingly provocative foreign policies—all of which make conflict and violence within Asia more likely.

Even so, we shouldn’t get too carried away just yet with that possibility. In fact, it’s possible that such a scenario might never occur; instead, we might see underbalancing at work in Asia. In short, there are factors that could easily prevent or delay the formation of an anti-China coalition.

For example, a number of Asian countries are weak and looking to grow, which gives them incentives to avoid challenging China. Such weakness—measured in economic and military capabilities—means they can’t balance against China individually, and there is the chance that external balancing makes more theoretically than in practice—particularly if the capabilities of Asian countries remain weak and underdeveloped and the requisite political will to collectively confront China just isn’t there. Meantime, choosing a non-aligned position within the region, or even siding with China, can give Asian nations an opportunity to maintain strong economic ties to Beijing, allowing them to piggyback off China’s economic ascent.

The one wrinkle here, though, is that the prospect of bandwagoning or sitting on the sidelines, whether because of coercive or profit seeking pressures, aren’t unique to Asia. In fact, as scholars such as Randall Schweller have pointed out, they’re more prominent than scholars have typically recognized. As an example, we’ve seen them for centuries in the Western Hemisphere, where North and South American countries have decided to either friend or remain neutral in the face of American dominance.

That said, there are two factors unique and specific to Asia that could foster underbalancing behavior. Let’s take a quick look at them.

First, East Asia has been unable to move past effectively Japan’s militaristic past. This is often called “Asia’s history problem.” To this day, Japan’s conquest of parts of China and the Korean peninsula, its use of comfort women, the role of the Yasukuni Shrine in Japanese politics, and the perception that Tokyo hasn’t been particularly contrite for these misdeeds has kept Japan’s relations with China and, more importantly, South Korea rather frosty. It probably doesn’t help that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on effort to relax the pacifist restrictions of Japan’s constitution, which could allow Japan to participate in collective defense operations with allies and friends. It has given some credence to the Chinese-led narrative that Japan is rearming, bringing back regional fears of the past.

The punchline of this is that, if South Korea can’t get past the struggles and horrors of World War II, then Japan could be in trouble. Should Japan find itself in a conflict with China, Tokyo might find it difficult to form a coalition with South Korea. Seoul might balk at such an agreement or form one only after it’s too late. Perhaps this isn’t such a big deal today, given Japan’s current defensive military advantages, but it will be in the future, when Chinese military capabilities (in quantity and quality) do exceed those of Japan. At that point, Japan will need all the help it can get.

But let’s take a less severe example. If Tokyo-Seoul differences go unresolved, then better and more substantial cooperation won’t happen. In that case, China scores a big win. Absent an anti-China coalition in East Asia, one that aims to hem in Beijing, then China has an easier path to spread its wings throughout all of Asia. The presence of such a coalition keeps China preoccupied with its position in its backyard, forestalling any grander ambitions that China might have. But if this Seoul-Tokyo coalition doesn’t exist, China can move beyond its neighborhood and cast its gaze on Southeast Asia and South Asia. This is exactly why the U.S. is concerned about Japan-South Korea relations and has subtly tried to get both sides to overcome their differences.

To a certain extent, one can argue this is already happening. China is facing little resistance in East Asia nowadays. South Korea and Japan are barely on speaking terms. And in the midst of the South Korea-Japan split, Beijing has cleverly cozied up to Seoul, pulling it into China's orbit. At the same time, Japan still hasn't resolved its fight to relax the restrictions on its pacifist constitutions, which means that Tokyo's military power is still effectively neutered. And Taiwan is afraid to make any move that could be seen as provocative by Beijing. As a result, China is able look beyond its locality and cause mischief in the South and East China Seas.

Second, Asia is home to two major non-aligned nations: Indonesia and India. Will they maintain their non-aligned status even if China emerges as a threat to the region? Let’s take a quick look at these two countries.

On the one hand, India had has a rocky relationship with China. India, clearly, sees China as a rival for regional status and prestige. Both countries fought a border war in 1962 and still have disagreements over the India-China border. In fact, PLA forces crossed into India twice in 2013, much to the dismay of Indian civilian and military leaders. In fact, this and other aggressive moves by China has been noticed by new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, on the campaign trail, issued critical remarks about Chinese behavior in Asia. Furthermore, keep in mind that India’s so-called Look East policy, which includes bolstering ties to Japan, is a hedge against Chinese encroachment on Indian interests.

At the same time, though, India under Modi is highly motivated to burnish its economy, and China plays a part of these economic plans. Undoubtedly, Modi would prefer not to pick a fight with China.

Meantime, Indonesia takes pride in its “thousand friends, no enemies” foreign policy, one that’s entirely consistent with its longstanding non-aligned position in the world. Unlike India, Indonesia has very good relations with both China and the U.S., and would like to keep it that way. Its foreign policy has strove to keep the country out of disputes and conflicts. Yet the tandem of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa have been able to keep Indonesia active in the region and the world at large by positioning the country as a trusted mediator and troubleshooter, particularly within the ASEAN community.

My guess is that India and Indonesia would have to be directly provoked to get both off the sidelines. In the case of India, cross border raids and confiscation of Indian territory is something to watch. Of course, though, things could change if India gets its economic act together to the point that it’s a direct competitor to China throughout Asia. Such competition could easily spill into political and security affairs, thereby relaxing India’s propensity to remain non-aligned. But given India’s modest growth rates over the past decade, in combination with China’s continued blistering economic pace and its rapid military modernization program, we’re probably quite some time away from any kind of tense, multifaceted competition between New Delhi and Beijing.

As for Indonesia, a potential tussle over the Natuna islands is possible as China may well expand its claims in the area over time. But even in this case, Indonesia, in my view, would likely try to resolve its differences with Beijing bilaterally and in line with international law. Indonesia would do what it could to minimize the dispute, not escalate it, which is what playing balance of power politics could do. Sure, eschewing alliances would ensure that Jakarta can’t improve its bargaining leverage vis-a-via Beijing; but at the same time, tightly tying itself to other nations would reduce its strategic flexibility and independence—something Indonesia, as a former colony of great powers of the past, deeply values.

NOTE: A version of this post has been published by Strategic Review. You can find it here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Indonesia's Third Presidential Debate: Foreign affairs a stranger to Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls

Foreign affairs a stranger to Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls

Retreating from the world? Indonesia presidential candidates Prabowo (left) and Jokowi. Photo by AFP.
Retreating from the world? Indonesia presidential candidates Prabowo (left) and Jokowi. Photo by AFP.

Indonesia’s third presidential debate on foreign affairs reveals candidates lack of worldly knowledge - 
and positions, writes Yohanes Sulaiman.

Note: This article is cross-posted at New Mandala blog.
There’s good and bad news about last night’s third Indonesia presidential debate on foreign policy.
The good news is that both candidates didn’t rock the boat. They committed to maintaining the status quo, both saying they would pursue the “thousand friends and zero enemies” path embarked upon by current president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The bad news is that for both candidates foreign policy just seemed so… well foreign.
Throughout the war of words, both Jokowi and Prabowo didn’t take foreign policy seriously, treating it as an afterthought to domestic political considerations. In particular neither candidate had really thought seriously about the many serious issues making waves right next door in the South China Sea.
It wasn’t the best look – particularly when a lot was at stake in this debate.
Jokowi entered the debate as an underdog. While still more popular than Prabowo, the later has been able to make a rapid push in the last couple weeks to narrow the  gap on his rival. As Burhanuddin Muhtadi, the executive director of the respected polling company Indikator Politik Indonesia, tweeted a couple of days ago, the situation is now “critical” for Jokowi. In essence, the gap is closing and it would not be surprising if in the end Prabowo squeaks by and claims the presidency.
Moreover, Jokowi’s poor performance in the second debate last week didn’t help.
It seemed to confirm assertions by Prabowo camp’s that Jokowi is simply a puppet, a weak candidate, who can’t do anything without running mate Jusuf Kalla babysitting him. As a result, Jokowi’s main goals in the third debate were to try to erase the poor impression from the second presidential debate and to show that he could be a decisive commander-in-chief.
On the other side, Prabowo has been trying to use the presidential debates to show himself as an even-tempered, mature politician with a big heart, even willing to acknowledge his opponent when he believed he was right.
Prabowo tried to dispel the fear that he was just another intemperate dictator-in-making that would clamp down on Indonesian democracy. And thus in this third debate, his goal was to show himself as a great statesman while trying to make sure that the people’s impression of Jokowi as a weak leader stuck.
But, Jokowi performed much better than last week. After affirming his commitment to Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy, he spotlighted the plights of Indonesian workers abroad and right from left field, declared his support for UN membership for Palestine.
Prabowo looked as if he was caught off guard by Jokowi’s new found assertiveness. While Prabowo didn’t perform terribly and there were some shining moments, such as when he highlighted extreme poverty and lack of job opportunities in Indonesia as the main reason for domestic workers seeking their fortunes abroad, he focused too much on banal assertions that Indonesia had to be strong and prosperous to be respected on the global stage.
He didn’t even try to elaborate, when questioned, on what he believed was Indonesia’s national interest – aside from safeguarding the integrity of Indonesian territory, protecting its resources, and preventing or stopping leakage; what he claims to be a vast, almost uncountable sum of money being moved from the country overseas. In fact he kept using bocor (leak) as the answer to so many questions that by the end of the debate, it sounded like a sleek slogan slapped on the side of a used-car salesman’s suitcase.
At the same time, Jokowi’s performance wasn’t flawless either. He kept getting bogged down in specifics, especially when he was talking about drones. His ‘droning’ matched Prabowo’s repetitive rants against ‘leakage’.
By the end of the debate though, optics-wise, Jokowi won. He looked more in command and even managed to show that he could be decisive when he wants to; a strong counterpunch to claims about his weakness . Prabowo, on the other hand, had a decent performance but he tended to be repetitive. Moreover, while his agreeing with Jokowi was great last week due to its shock value, this week it lost its novelty and made him actually look weaker and not in control.
But so much for the show – what about the substance?
If anyone wants to use this debate as a marker of both candidates’ foreign policy, they will be left empty handed. There was simply no discussion or debate on grand strategy, on Indonesia’s foreign policy goals in Southeast Asia, on ASEAN, what to do about growing tension in South China Sea, and so on. You get the point – there weren’t any.
Jokowi kept talking about the need for good relationships and diplomacy for every single problem facing Indonesia without delving into specifics, while Prabowo kept giving vague answers about making the country prosperous and strong first to be respected, as well as the need of Indonesia to defend its “national interest”. The debate seemed to pick up steam when Prabowo asked Jokowi about border disputes between Indonesia and its neighbours. Like a one-trick pony, Jokowi replied “diplomacy”.
More worrying was Jokowi’s non-answer on the South China Sea; he said Indonesia should not get involved if it could not help solve the problem due to fear of  getting China offside. But as Prabowo, correctly, argued, the South China Sea problem should involve Indonesia because China’s claims also overlap with its own claims.
The issue of an ASEAN Economic Community, which was discussed briefly last week, was only dealt with in passing, instead being used to bounce the discussion back to the need of domestic reforms to increase competitiveness – instead of really going into why we signed the agreement in the first place.
Jokowi also talked about having ambassadors act as trade representatives, even though Indonesia already had trade attaches – whose function is to promote trade. Prabowo said the idea was “too theoretical”, before offering his far more practical ‘solution’; you guessed it, “close the leakage”.
To make matters worse Australia escaped the debate unscathed. While the wiretapping scandal was raised, and there were some mild jabs at Australia’s lack of trust of Indonesia (Prabowo even suggested Australia had a phobia to Indonesia), Tony Abbot should rest easy knowing that both candidates actually agree on the importance of improving the relationship , while advocating for greater education and cultural diplomacy.
So in essence, watching this debate was like watching paint dry – pretty slow, very boring.
While it is tempting to attribute the lack of vigour on both candidates lacking mastery in the subject matter, or simply the unwillingness of both candidates to cause problems with neighboring countries, I think the real reason was to avoid offending President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
While the president is growing unpopular, he is still popular enough that his Partai Demokrat managed to snag around 10 per cent of the votes during the legislative election last April. With opinion polls suggesting the presidential race to be close, none of them can afford to offend the president, whose support may be pivotal in deciding who will win.
But as it stands currently, Indonesia clearly looks set to lose when it comes to its standing on the world stage, once one of these less than worldly leaders assumes office.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Quick Analysis on Indonesia's Second Presidential Debate

After Jokowi won last week's presidential debate, he regained part of his previous momentum, and this is evident in the social media chatter. His supporters were far more active, while in turn, Prabowo's supporters were more subdued.

So in last night's presidential debate, it should not come as a surprise that unlike his last week's subdued performance, Prabowo came out swinging, and hit hard. In contrast, Jokowi looked very calm and in fact:
While I think that was part of his attempt to look presidential (and as a front runner), it didn't really help him, as Prabowo pummeled him hard by questioning his programs. For instance, when Jokowi, as usual, underscored what he had done as the head of two cities (Solo and Jogjakarta), showing off his healthcare insurance card that he would use as a template for a national program, Prabowo retorted questioned where Jokowi would get all the money to pay for his programs, which rightly, would increase budget deficit.

At the same time, however, Prabowo also showed his soft side. He looked very polite. He was aggressive, but not hostile, and in fact he later said, "my advisers told me to always disagree with Jokowi. I, however, will support him if he has a good idea" and later he shook Jokowi's hand and hugged him.

Even though Prabowo's economic program itself is actually full of holes (which I will discuss later in this analysis), his decision to go on the offensive during the entire debate made it very difficult for Jokowi to hit him. It was only very later in the debate when Jokowi finally able to attack Prabowo's "one billion rupiah for every village" promise, arguing that it was actually already on the books.

By that time, I already wrote two of my most retweeted tweets in my entire tweeting career:

So, I gave the verdict that Prabowo won the debate, though there were many dissents, with many calling it draw.

And now, here's my take. First of all, consider the optics. Like I mentioned above, Jokowi seemed to not do very well in the first half of debate. It took him some time to get the fire in his belly and react to Prabowo's assaults. While Prabowo looked aggressive, it was fun watching him. At the same time, Prabowo's aggressiveness allowed him to escape unscathed from the holes in his arguments.

Take the example of his plan to transform damaged forests into agricultural bio-fuel producing farmlands. Doesn't that actually create the incentive for people to damage more forests? Ok, that might be a cheap shot. How about this? When he argued that there is "1000 trillion rupiah" leak in the state budget: how did he get the numbers? Is there really any sound analysis that would support his assertion that all his programs could be funded simply by plugging the leaks? More importantly, when Prabowo said that agricultural sector could help reducing unemployment rate significantly, he was wrong. Actually, an efficient, mechanized agricultural sector would reduce the required number of labors. And not to mention:
Meantime, Jokowi's answers in many cases were headscratchers. His declaration that 80% elementary school education should be focused on morality is mind boggling. Granted, this is a red meat issue to his many rural conservative followers, but how does this really prepare the youth for the challenges and needs of modern society? Less math and English and more religious study? And at the same time, he kept advocating an increase in minimum wage, which was fine ONLY if the productivity also increase, and don't think that would be helped by more religious studies.
Aside from the bad economic logic, both sides also focused too much on economic nationalism. True, this is another red meat issue, as people always love economic nationalism and hate those blasted multinational corporations that stole Indonesia's resources. Still, foreign investment is not a "black and white" issue.

On one hand, people are taught that Indonesia is a very rich and fertile nation, whose wealth should be used to make everyone rich. Therefore, foreigners are evil because they steal Indonesian resources and carry them abroad. On the other hand, liberal economists, technocrats, and the government officials know that they need foreign expertise to extract the resources. Without foreign investors willing to take risks in exploring for new resources (e.g. new oil wells), in combination with foreign technology, Indonesia would not be able to gain revenues to pay for its bloated budget.

Thus both Jokowi and Prabowo have to toe a very thin line. They have to keep throwing red meat to their key followers, especially the economic nationalists or, heck, the nationalists in general, while also reassuring investors that there's no risk that they will nationalize everything. As a result, debates are generally very vanilla and the difference between the approaches of both candidates is that Jokowi stresses his micro-economic approach (traditional market, etc) while Prabowo talks about a macro-economic focus.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Prognosis on Iraq

In the latest development in Iraq, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) managed to capture the city of Mosul. What is surprising is not that Mosul was overrun, but how it fell:
Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers – roughly 30,000 men – simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Isis extremists roamed freely on Wednesday through the streets of Mosul, openly surprised at the ease with which they took Iraq's second largest city after three days of sporadic fighting.
The New York Times further elaborated:
WASHINGTON — The stunning collapse of Iraq’s army in a string of cities across the north reflects poor leadership, declining troop morale, broken equipment and a sharp decline in training since the last American advisers left the country in 2011, American military and intelligence officials said Thursday.
Four of Iraq’s 14 army divisions virtually abandoned their posts, stripped off their uniforms and fled when confronted in cities such as Mosul and Tikrit by militant groups, principally fighters aligned with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the officials said.
The divisions that collapsed were said to be made up of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish troops. Other units made up of mainly Shiite troops and stationed closer to Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, were believed to be more loyal to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and would most likely put up greater resistance, according to the officials.
In one instance a few years ago, a leading Sunni general in northern Iraq whom American officers lauded for his operational skills was ousted and replaced by a Shiite officer. And since the last American forces left Iraq, United States officials said the government in Baghdad had failed to finance and maintain the same training missions.
Basically, the Iraqi military simply disintegrated. Why? The politicization of the military, Maliki's overreaching political ambitions, and his splitting the society based on religious lines, where he favored the Shiites more than the Sunnis, making the Sunni population to actually sympathize with the militants (which I predicted back in 2011), have all played big roles here.

So how bad is the current situation in Iraq?

Actually, not that bad. Granted, the fall of Mosul and how it fell were demoralizing to both the government of Iraq and the pundits in the United States. Still, ISIS is not THAT powerful. The fact is that ISIS is a very small force (though disciplined enough to rout the demoralized Iraqi army) and overextended, as it is also preoccupied in Syria and, at the same time, fighting the tribal insurgents (the Anbar Awakening members), as noted in this interesting analysis:
ISIS still faces serious challenges in Anbar, including the potential for a broader tribal-government coalition that could push it out of the city. A political deal with the federal government to facilitate this coalition, if reached, would almost certainly lead local military councils and tribal insurgents to switch sides. The latter, despite their deep mistrust of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, would prefer to be reintegrated into state institutions than to harbor a terrorist organization. This is compounded by the losses ISIS has faced in Syria, where the Free Syrian Army and some Islamist factions including Jabhat al-Nusra are pushing back against them, which will restrict the flow of militants into Anbar. In recent months, ISIS has ceded chunks of territory in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Province on the Iraqi border, with most of its fighters retreating to Raqqa Province, deeper within Syria. Other fighters have apparently crossed into Iraq, as suggested by the killing of top ISIS leader Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Kuwaiti near Ramadi in late March.
So, I really doubt that Baghdad is going to fall anytime soon. ISIS could take over Mosul because it was defended by ineffective army and as noted in this Foreign Policy article, ISIS was already in Mosul for quite a while anyway, before it took over the city." So there is still time for the Iraqi government to actually get its act together and get rid of the militants.

The problem, however, is that the Maliki government is really good in alienating or insulting any possible Sunni allies -- and worse, also attacking them militarily. And at this point, with the situation deteriorating and his political position in peril, Maliki will likely raise the stakes, using the banner of religious nationalism and violence. This option of course will be supported by his Shiites brethren, jealously guarding their power and fearing another dictatorship by the Sunni minorities. Already there are reports that Iran has sent Revolutionary Guard troops to help the beleaguered Maliki government.

In essence, this is a situation that spiraling out of control due to Maliki's incompetence.

So what should the United States do?

Obama is correct when he made an argument that Iraqi government had to make political changes. At the same time, however, the best option for the United States is probably to send troops to reimpose order.

Granted, this is a very unpopular option. It is also very expensive. At the same time, however, there are no "safe" options, such as lobbing missiles or aerial bombings, because the United States doesn't have any information of who to bomb, as noted by the CNN:
Among other complications, U.S. officials don't have good intelligence about where militants are. Even if they did, the militants don't have the type of targets -- command and control centers, air defense sites, military bases -- that lend themselves to aerial attacks, the officials said on condition of not being identified.
More importantly, the United States is seen as an honest broker that would not take sides -- and actually perform much better than the Iraqi army in maintaining order. Keep in mind that the United States managed to make deals with the Sunni tribes and created the first Anbar Awakening that managed to pacify Iraq and create the conditions for the United States to be able to withdraw its troops.

Unfortunately, Obama is not entertaining this option because he never wanted to take ownership of the Iraq mess. It is easy to blame Bush for invading Iraq in the first place with insufficient troops, thus setting the condition for Iraq to self-implode. That said, Obama is elected as the President of the United States and he needs to start taking ownership of Iraq, and as noted in my twitter conversation with Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College:
My guess is that Obama will, at most, shoot some missiles send some drones to help Maliki defend Baghdad while pestering Maliki to engage the Sunnis (and the Kurds) and make concessions and internal political changes. That, however, is not a good long term solution, especially because there's no way in hell Maliki is going to compromise with the Sunnis.

In the end, I doubt Obama is going to send drones into Iraq. Obama will simply muddle through, exhorting Maliki to make political changes that the latter would ignore (or do very slowly with just cosmetic changes), which in turn will give Obama an excuse to do nothing.
By muddling through, though, Obama might recreate another Syria -- a de facto partition between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds. And this, in the end, would only create a breeding place for more extremists.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Quick take on Indonesia's First Presidential Debate

Here's my quick take on last night's presidential debate, between Prabowo Subiwanto and Joko Widodo.

First, I was expecting both candidates to come out swinging last night, considering the stakes. On Prabowo's side, he has the momentum. In the time since the recent legislative election, Prabowo has managed to slowly close the popularity gap between him and Jokowi, while support for Jokowi is going down slowly as noted in these surveys:

Indikator Politik Indonesia (April 20-26)
51.0% Jokowi
32.4%, Prabowo
16.6% Undecided

Public Opinion and Policy Research Center (May 24-29)
47.5% Jokowi
36.9% Prabowo
14.4% Undecided

Several caveats, though. First of all, we are talking about different survey groups doing different surveys. Still, anecdotal evidence, based on my conversations with taxi drivers in Jakarta (who, in general, are the best barometer of public opinion), showed that support to Jokowi is eroding. On April, virtually every taxi driver I met declared their support for Jokowi. Last month, however, most of them were vacillating, saying that they liked Jokowi, but saw Prabowo as more presidential. So it looks to me that the erosion of support really is happening.

Moreover, Jokowi himself, in the past couple occasions, hasn't really inspired much confidence, and my sources were complaining that the campaign team seemed to only recently started to get things really in order. It took them a while before they finally tackled all black campaigns waged against Jokowi on Twitter.

Not surprisingly, the momentum is on Prabowo's side. Prabowo needed to show his presidential side in this debate, ensuring people that his infamous fiery temper didn't disqualify him for this job, and, in a best case scenario, to deliver a knock-out punch to Jokowi, or at least ensure that Jokowi couldn't take back the momentum.

Many would argue that last night debate was not really that inspiring -- and to some degree I agree.
The moderator's questions were very general, and candidates ended up with either stock answers or very normative ones. In general, though, Jokowi and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, ended up talking a lot about the nitty gritty of their experience in governing, showing that they were "doers."

Prabowo and his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, on the other hand, focused mostly on generalities, with the aim, I think, of showing people that they have big plans, stressing things like law and order, which fits nicely with the image of him as a "tough military guy."

For the details of the questions asked and the candidates' answers, check out my Twitter feed @yohanessulaiman, but this tweet summed up the debate:
The sparks started to fly when the moderator allowed the candidates to ask a question. While Prabowo's camp bizarrely asked questions about the cost of local elections and what Jokowi would do about it, Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla used the occasion to attack Prabowo's presumed human rights violations. While it was clear that Prabowo was trying to control his emotion, I think he did pretty well there.

So who won? I think Jokowi won the debate on points, though not by many. He managed to show himself as a serious candidate who could hold on his own in a debate. Of course, there are some comments like this:

And yes, Mr. Lemaistre was right. Kalla did overshadow Jokowi in a couple of instances, but I think that's the role they agreed on. Jokowi should act presidential, while leaving Jusuf Kalla as an attack dog, a bad cop, or whatever, not dissimilar with his current arrangement with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, his vice-governor.

At the same time, Prabowo himself was not necessarily defeated. He looked tired and drained, but not broken. I don't think the human rights trump card that Kalla played last night could be used again, at least not in way that would have a lasting impact on the undecideds. Prabowo could still use four more presidential debates to knock Jokowi off his perch. So I don't think anyone left the room damaged or bruised.

Hatta Rajasa, on the other hand, didn't really shine much. He sounded very bureaucratic, and didn't necessarily inspire -- like a wall flower. In a debate between Jusuf Kalla and Hatta Rajasa, I think the former would win by KO.