December 4, 2023
JAKARTA – Deflecting speculation that the General Elections Commission (KPU) is looking to scrap the upcoming rounds of vice presidential debates, the poll body has assured that it will comply with prevailing regulations, including setting aside two of the five rounds of debates for VP contenders.
With the campaign season for the February election now in full swing, voters have started to look forward to the televised debates, seen by many as a chance for the future leaders to defend their visions and challenge their opponents to win over voters for next year’s election.
KPU chair Hasyim Asy’ari said on Friday that all three pairs of presidential and vice presidential candidates would be “present” for all rounds of the debate, but that they would be given different proportions of speaking time in each round.
“This is so that the public can be convinced of the teamwork between the presidential candidates and their running mates throughout the debate,” Hasyim said, as quoted by Kompas.com.
His statement came following a series of meetings on Nov. 29 between the KPU, relevant government bodies and the representatives of each presidential pair, as well as media leaders and political experts.
His remarks, however, have raised eyebrows, leading to speculation that the KPU was looking for both presidential candidates and their running mates to be on stage for all rounds of debate, and that the KPU has decided to scrap the vice presidential debate rounds entirely.
Either would contradict the 2017 General Elections Law, which mandates that three rounds of debate be allocated for presidential candidates, while the remaining two rounds are to be allocated for their running mates. This format is also mandated in the KPU’s own regulation, or PKPU, issued in mid-July.
Critics have also said that by allowing presidential contenders to accompany their running mates on stage would benefit Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who will face off against his more seasoned rivals Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD and National Awakening Party (PKB) chair Muhaimin Iskandar.
Gibran is the running mate of Gerindra Party patron Prabowo Subianto and the eldest son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
The fact that Gibran skipped a public debate held by Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, in Surabaya late last month has added to speculation that Gibran was purposely trying to avoid gaffes early in the contest.
KPU commissioner August Mellaz, however, denied that the debates would eliminate the vice presidential segment or that they would be to the benefit of a particular presidential pair.
“In every debate, [both the presidential and vice presidential candidates] can attend. But, if the debate was dedicated to the presidential candidates, then they will be the ones to speak, and vice versa. The [candidate who is not debating] will sit in the audience,” August told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
August said that the first, third and fifth rounds of debate will be allocated for the presidential candidate, while the second and fourth rounds will be for their running mates.
Despite the KPU’s recent clarification, two out of the three candidate pairs were already up in arms about having presidential contenders accompany their running mates.
Opposition figurehead Anies Baswedan, who is running with VP candidate Muhaimin, said on Saturday that he and his team were never involved in the KPU’s planning of the 2024 election debate. He urged the KPU to stick with the format used in previous elections.
“[The KPU] never spoke to our team [about the new format]. Based on our experience in previous elections, all the candidates had always been invited to talk and formulate [the debate format] together,” Anies said, as quoted by Kompas.id.
Todung Mulya Lubis, a member of the campaign team for Ganjar Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Mahfud MD said in a statement on Saturday that the KPU’s new format is a “deviation” from the 2017 law.
“Not to mention that it will also eliminate the public’s opportunity to fully assess the qualities of the vice presidential candidates,” he said.
Gibran, meanwhile, was quoted by Kompas.com as saying on Sunday that he would not mind whether the KPU stuck with the new format or reverted it back to that of past elections.
Chance for voters
According to the KPU, two debates will be held this year, on Dec.12 and 22, while the remaining three will be held on Jan. 7 and 21, 2024, as well as Feb.4, 2024. The first debate is expected to cover the topics of law, human rights and democracy.
Activist Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) has billed the debate leg of the campaign season as the best way for voters to find out more about the vision, mission and ideas offered by each presidential pair, rather than focusing on campaign gimmicks.
“Campaign elections are defined as a form of political education that put forward competing ideas and create dialogue, and this emerges during the presidential debates,” she said on Sunday.