Indonesia Presidential election: Jokowi's pick holds his own in live debate with V-P rival

Mr Sandiaga Uno, the vice-presidential pick of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, spoke passionately about research and innovation, start-ups and the burgeoning creative economy. Dr Ma'ruf Amin, President Joko Widodo's running mate, spoke animate
Dr Ma'ruf Amin, President Joko Widodo's running mate, spoke animatedly last night about his hopes of raising the country's profile on the global cultural scene.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Mr Sandiaga Uno, the vice-presidential pick of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, spoke passionately about research and innovation, start-ups and the burgeoning creative economy. Dr Ma'ruf Amin, President Joko Widodo's running mate, spoke animate
Mr Sandiaga Uno, the vice-presidential pick of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, spoke passionately about research and innovation, start-ups and the burgeoning creative economy. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Face-off cordial as candidates lay out their camps' visions, plans

All eyes were on cleric Ma'ruf Amin last night, after his lacklustre showing at the first Indonesian presidential debate in January.

Expectations were that the 76-year-old running mate of incumbent Joko Widodo would be overshadowed by former businessman Sandiaga Uno, the uber popular vice-presidential pick of presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto.

But at last night's showdown - the first and only contest between the vice-presidential picks alone - Dr Ma'ruf proved to be a man on a mission to redeem himself.

Compared with the inaugural Jan 17 debate that saw jibes and tense back-and-forths between Mr Joko and Mr Prabowo, the third of five debates in the run-up to the April 17 polls was a cordial contest between the vice-presidential picks. This time around, Dr Ma'ruf did not fade into the background as he did in the first debate, when he let Mr Joko - widely known as Jokowi - do the heavy lifting.

He had a slow start but steadily gained momentum, keeping up with Mr Sandiaga, 49, as the two men took turns to lay out their camps' visions and plans in areas ranging from health and education to social affairs and employment.

A hot topic was the deficit of the Healthcare and Social Security Agency that runs the national health insurance scheme introduced by Mr Joko shortly after he became president. Last year, the agency recorded a 16.5 trillion rupiah (S$1.56 billion) budget deficit blamed on low premiums. Dr Ma'ruf promised the scheme - which covers 215 million people, the most covered by such a scheme in the world - would continue, but fell short on detailing possible solutions.

Mr Sandiaga promised he and Mr Prabowo would, if elected, find a solution in their first 200 days. "We should not point fingers, but we have to fix the problem," he said. "We will bring in the best actuaries from Hong Kong, the best of our nation."

As expected, Mr Sandiaga, a vocal champion of entrepreneurship, spoke passionately about research and innovation, start-ups and the burgeoning creative economy.

And on these newfangled issues, Dr Ma'ruf - who throughout the debate trotted out Arabic phrases to applause from his supporters - held his own, outlining his ticket's plans to consolidate research funds. "We will maximise a national research plan, to make our research more effective," he said. "We will provide funds for research, art and education. With that, we believe research can contribute to advancing this nation."

 
 
 
 

And Dr Ma'ruf came alive when responding to a question on developing and promoting Indonesian culture, speaking animatedly about hopes to raise the country's profile on the global cultural scene.

"We will hold big international festivals... We will build an opera (house) like the one in Sydney to showcase our culture," he said.

Stunting - a perennial problem in Indonesia - also got an airing, as Mr Sandiaga, citing his wife's struggle to feed their youngest child, whom she had at the age of 42, spoke about his camp's plan to get people to donate items such as milk.

In the face of anxieties among local workers over job competition, Mr Sandiaga - who said only foreign workers who can speak Indonesian should be employed - asked about the foreign workforce. Dr Ma'ruf maintained it was under control, claiming that foreigners made up just 0.01 per cent of the workforce. "Foreign workers are only allowed to take jobs that locals can't do," he said. "That will also allow for the transfer of technology."

Both teams have plans to beef up job opportunities, and last night stressed the need for "link and match programmes" between companies and schools, and training for job seekers.

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In deeply religious Aceh, conservatives stick with Prabowo. Regional Correspondent Jeffrey Hutton reports from the province.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2019, with the headline 'Jokowi's pick holds his own in live debate with V-P rival'. Print Edition | Subscribe