First Indonesian presidential debate between Jokowi and Prabowo kicks off

Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko Widodo (left) speaks beside his vice-presidential candidate Ma'ruf Amin during a televised debate with his opponents Prabowo Subianto and his vice- presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan 17, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto on Thursday (Jan 17) faced off in a live debate ahead of the April 17 presidential election, watched by tens of millions of people on television, radio and through livestreams on the Internet.

They attacked each other's record in the first of five live debates, with both men keen to capture the big pool of swing voters. The debate was broadcast live by 18 television and radio stations.

The topics covered were on the hot-button issues of corruption, terrorism, human rights and the law.

Mr Prabowo, 67, a retired army general, is running with businessman-turned-politician Sandiaga Uno, 49, who last year left his post as Jakarta deputy governor after serving less than a year.

They are the only rivals in a two-way race in the April presidential poll against Mr Joko, 57, and running mate Ma'ruf Amin, 75, a former leader of the 80 million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organisation.

Both Dr Ma'ruf and Mr Sandiaga, standing beside the presidential candidates, chipped in with some of the answers.

Thursday's debate was held as the latest surveys by six pollsters, conducted between November and January, revealed that should the polls be held during those periods, the Joko-Ma'ruf pair would garner between 47.7 per cent and 54.9 per cent of the votes.

On the other hand, the Prabowo-Sandiaga pair would get between 30.6 per cent and 35.5 per cent.

But there is also a big chunk of undecided voters - between 10.6 per cent and 16.8 per cent - that is targeted by both sides.

The live debates allow the candidates to deliver their message to the nearly 193 million voters in the world's largest archipelago of 17,000 islands.

Mr Joko is backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) and eight other parties.

These include the country's oldest Golkar party and two Islam-leaning factions, United Development Party (PPP) and National Awakening Party (PKB).

Mr Prabowo is running on the ticket of his party Gerindra and two Islam-leaning parties, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN), along with former-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's nationalist Democratic Party.

Some of the issues debated cut deep into what a section of Indonesians feel.

Mr Prabowo attacked Mr Joko for what he claimed was a discriminatory approach in enforcing the law, which is biased against the poor.

"You have ruled more than four years. People have experienced being discriminated against. You are the chief law enforcement officer. You must not discriminate based on religion, ethnics, or anything," Mr Prabowo said.

He also argued that Indonesia needs to ensure state apparatus with enormous legal authority like judges and policemen must be well paid so they have a good quality of life and could resist bribes.

Mr Joko replied that the accusations about the law was baseless as the country operates on standard legal procedure and follows due process.

"Don't make baseless accusations. If anyone has evidence, they can report to the law enforcement officers," Mr Joko said.

The two candidates also spoke on the issue of corruption in politics and the civil service.

However, the police probe into the 2017 attack on anti-graft investigator Novel Baswedan did not feature in the debate even though Mr Joko had said on Wednesday that he would give an update on it.

Failure to solve the case remains a blemish on the President's record against corruption, and many had hoped he would elaborate on the police investigations during the debate last night.

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