Indonesian Presidential Candidates Debate Corruption, Terrorism
(Bloomberg) -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo pledged to intensify the fight against corruption through merit-based political appointments in the first presidential debate as his challenger Prabowo Subianto mooted higher pay for bureaucrats to tackle the menace seen as hindering the country’s development.
Seeking to win over swing voters, Widodo, known as Jokowi, defended his track record on corruption, terrorism, law reform and human rights in Thursday’s presidential debate, while Prabowo pitched for a decisive administration to tackle corruption and threats from home-grown and foreign terror groups.
Although the economy has taken the center-stage in the election campaign, sporadic terrorist attacks and allegations of human rights violations from Papua to Aceh have marked Jokowi’s tenure, allowing his challenger to project himself as a strongman capable of tackling these issues more effectively.
Jokowi’s approval rating is at 53.2 percent, compared with 34.1 percent for Prabowo, according to a survey by Charta Politika released on Wednesday. The incumbent, a former furniture businessman and the first non-elite to occupy the presidential office, led his rival by 20 points in a December survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia. It also found the gap between Widodo and Prabowo has closed by five points since September.
Prabowo can catch up with Jokowi if he woos the undecided and swing voters and the presidential debates may offer an opportunity to do that, according to Yunarto Wijaya, executive director of Charta Politika.
The candidates must create new momentum, Wijaya said. “If the public’s narration and conversation related to the presidential election is flat like now, Jokowi will maintain the rhythm and Prabowo will lose.”
Prabowo blamed low salaries of government officials, including judges and police as the root cause for rampant corruption in a country that Transparency International ranks alongside Colombia and Zambia as the 96th most corrupt among 176 nations.
“We must be able to ensure the quality of life of all officials that have the authority to make a decision so that they can’t be bribed,” Prabowo said. “With clean and strong institutions, we will be able to uphold the law.”
Prabowo has picked as his running mate Sandiaga Uno, a business-savvy former private equity investor. He blames the high public debt and slump in the currency to levels not seen since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis as examples of Jokowi’s mismanagement of the economy. The former general is proposing to revitalize Southeast Asia’s largest economy by slashing taxes on companies and individuals if elected.
He’s also calling for a review of Indonesia’s economic relations with China, the nation’s largest trading partner. With the country posting a record trade deficit last year, Prabowo plans to “seek a better deal” with China and will push for bilateral talks, according to Irawan Ronodipuro, director of foreign affairs for the Prabowo campaign.
Jokowi, who has mostly limited his campaigning so far to inaugurating toll roads and airports, is seeking a mandate to carry on his agenda of better connecting the country’s scattered islands and transforming Indonesia from a commodity-reliant economy into a manufacturing power. His government has spent billions of dollars dollars to add roads, ports, dams and airports and created millions of new jobs.
Jokowi, who is supported by nine political parties, picked conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, partly to fend off attacks from conservative groups, which accuse him of not doing enough to protect the interests of Muslims.
In contrast Prabowo is backed by hardline groups which were behind large public protest against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, who was later jailed after being found guilty of blasphemy.
They’ve already rallied behind Prabowo and their enthusiasm may help him build the momentum in the final months, according to Alexander R. Arifianto, a research fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“Prabowo does have a large number of strong hard-core followers at grassroots level who are quite determined to help him score an upset against Jokowi,” Arifianto wrote in an email. “I believe it is premature to write off Prabowo at this point, despite Jokowi’s double-digit lead.”
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