Gloves came off at 1st Indonesia presidential debate as candidates sparred over human rights, pollution & farmers' issues

The first of a five-part presidential election debate.

Keyla Supharta | December 14, 2023, 10:57 AM

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Indonesia's three presidential hopefuls faced off in a live debate on Tuesday (Dec. 12) night— the first of five televised debates ahead of the country's election on Feb. 14 next year.

The first debate saw former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, and Defense Minister Prabowo Subinato digging up each other's past, highlighting each others' weaknesses.

These issues include the topics of Prabowo's history with human rights, Anies' handling of Jakarta's air pollution, and Ganjar's management of fertiliser for farmers in Central Java.

Prabowo: "Don't politicise human rights issues"

The topic of human rights was raised by Ganjar during the question-and-answer segment of the debate, when he asked Prabowo whether the latter would form an ad-hoc human rights court to resolve past cases of serious human rights violations.

"There are a lot of mothers waiting out there. Can you help to find the graves of the missing people [so these mothers] can visit these graves?"

In response, Prabowo said that the issue is handled by Ganjar's running mate, Mahfud MD.

Mahfud MD is the country's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs and once served as a Constitutional Court chief justice.

"Every five years, when my polling goes up, I am asked about these questions (human rights) again," Prabowo said, then asserted that he strongly stands up for human rights.

"People who were previously detained, political prisoners who were said to have been kidnapped by me are now on my side, defending me."

"So don't politicise human rights issues, sir Ganjar," shot back Prabowo.

Firmly uphold human rights

Ganjar however, repeated his question to Prabowo again.

"I only have one question — if you become president, will you create a human rights court?"

Ganjar said that if he became president, he would sort out the matter such that the issue would not rise again in subsequent presidential elections, "because the president is firm in resolving the problem in his era".

In response, Prabowo said that he would firmly uphold human rights.

In 1998, Indonesia experienced political turmoil marked by incidents of mass violence, anti-government demonstrations, and civil unrest.

During this time, Prabowo served as a Lieutenant General in the elite Kopassus unit, where he was accused of kidnapping student activists and overseeing rights abuses in East Timor.

Gibran and constitutional court ruling

Prabowo then became the target of Anies and Ganjar, when they brought up the Constitutional Court's decision to change the age requirement for presidential candidates.

The change in court ruling paved the way for Jokowi's oldest son, 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka, to run as Prabowo's running mate.

Under the 2017 general election law, presidential and vice presidential candidates have to be at least 40 years of age.

This was changed when the Constitutional Court on Oct. 16 ruled that candidates under the required age of 40 can contest for the 2024 presidency or vice presidency, provided they have previously held an elected regional office.

Gibran, who is the elected mayor of Surakarta, therefore qualifies.

In response, Prabowo said: "I think regarding the Constitutional court, the rules are clear. We are not children, the public is smart, [and] our people are watching. Our people know. Sir Ganjar, we also know how the process works. Who is doing the intervention?"

Anies then asked Prabowo how he felt when he found out that the Constitutional Court's decision had been declared ethically problematic, while there was still time to process the nomination.

Prabowo replied the legal experts in his team found no problems or issues from a legal standpoint.

He added that the Constitutional Court's decision regarding the age limit for presidential and vice presidential candidates remains final.

"The public will decide. If the public doesn't like Prabowo and Gibra, [they] don't have to vote for us. And I'm not afraid of not having a position (in the government)," said Prabowo.

"Sir Anies, I don't have anything. I am ready to die for this country," Prabowo declared, to the audience's cheers.

However, Anies was not satisfied with Prabowo's response, alluding to a phenomenon known as "ordal", supposedly rampant in society.

The phenomenon refers to the need to have connections to attain a certain position, hindering meritocracy.

Anies' handling of air pollution in Jakarta as Jakarta governor

In turn, Prabowo asked Anies about the latter's handling of air pollution in Jakarta.

Prabowo pointed out that the budget for Jakarta is around 80 trillion (S$6.9 billion) rupiah each year.

He then asked why during the five years when Anies was governor of Jakarta, did the Indonesian capital often had the highest pollution index in the world.

Anies then replied there were various steps he implemented to control air pollution and that high pollution in Jakarta does not happen every day.

"There are days where we are clean, days where we are dirty," Anies said. "Air pollution has no ID card."

"It's difficult if you keep blaming the wind," Prabowo replied.

Ganjar's management of fertiliser for farmers in Central Java

Prabowo then asked Ganjar about the latter's management of fertiliser for farmers in Central Java.

Prabowo said that farmers and fishermen in Central Java, the province in which Ganjar was a governor, struggled to get fertiliser, and wanted the procurement process that Ganjar initiated to be simplified.

Ganjar reminded Prabowo that he (Prabowo) had been chairman of the Indonesian Farmers' Harmony Association for two terms.

Ganjar also criticised the national government for the scarcity of fertiliser, saying that fertiliser shortages did not only occur in Central Java.

Ganjar said that fertiliser shortages could also be observed in Papua, North Sumatra, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara, and East Kalimantan.

He said that the distribution of fertiliser could be done effectively if the farmers' data, which had "never been in order", could be better managed.

First of a five-part presidential debate

The two-hour televised debate on Tuesday (Dec. 12) is the first of Indonesia's five-part presidential election debate.

It came at an important juncture of the presidential race, with recent opinion polls seeing Prabowo stretching his lead at 36.1 per cent.

Ganjar followed closely behind at 33.7 per cent, and Anies at 30.2 per cent.

Should the poll remain consistent, Ganjar and Anies would be fighting for second place and a spot to compete with Prabowo in a possible runoff, which analysts have considered a possibility since no ticket is likely to secure a majority in the first round of voting.

More than 205 million local and overseas Indonesians will vote for their next president on Feb. 14, 2024.

Top image via screenshot from Kompascom Reporter on Location/YouTube