Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

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.

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