Indonesia’s presidential candidates ready for first debate

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has selected 11 expert panelists to ask questions on issues of law, human rights and democracy.

Nina A. Loasana

Nina A. Loasana

The Jakarta Post


Presidential and vice presidential candidates (from left) Prabowo Subianto and running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Ganjar Pranowo and running mate Mahfud MD and Anies Baswedan and running mate Muhaimin Iskandar pose for the press on Nov. 14, 2023, at the General Elections Commission (KPU) office in Jakarta. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

December 11, 2023

JAKARTA  – All three presidential candidates have said they are ready to face off in the first debate of the 2024 campaign on Tuesday, for which the General Elections Commission (KPU) has selected 11 expert panelists to ask questions on issues of law, human rights and democracy.

Muhammad Syaugi, campaign manager for Anies Baswedan, said the former Jakarta governor had been organizing a series of public discussions called Desak Anies (challenge Anies) to prepare for the first debate.

“These discussions seek to give opportunities for young people to ask any questions about Anies’ policy goals and various national issues, so I’m sure Anies is ready to participate in Tuesday’s debate, as he’s been trained to answer difficult questions,” Syaugi said on Sunday.

Nusron Wahid, secretary of the campaign team for three-time presidential contender Prabowo Subianto, said the defense minister was already well prepared for Tuesday’s showdown.

“Prabowo has been ready for presidential debates for more than 15 years,” Nusron said.

Presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) also said he was ready for the debate.

“My running mate and I have participated in public debates before. So we’ll just come to the first official debate as scheduled and just do it – we’re ready,” he said on Saturday.

Read also: KPU makes last-minute changes to debate format

The poll body has invited 11 experts to serve as panelists for the Tuesday debate, all of whom have agreed to participate.

“We showed the 11 names to all three presidential candidates on Friday, and they’ve all agreed to our proposal,” KPU commissioner August Mellaz told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

The list reportedly includes political science lecturers Mada Sukmajati and Rudi Rohi; constitutional law lecturers Lita Tyesta, Agus Riewanto and Khairul Fahmi; law professor Bayu Dwi Anggono; religious studies professor Phil Al Makin; and constitutional law professor Susi Dwi Harijanti.

Wawan Mas’udi, dean of social and political science at Gadjah Mada University; Gun Gun Heryanto, dean of communications at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University; and Ahmad Taufan Damanik, former chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) are also reportedly on the list.

Ensuring neutrality

The panelists’ primary responsibility is to formulate questions for the presidential hopefuls based on their respective areas of expertise.

KPU commissioner Yulianto Sudrajat previously claimed the KPU would ensure that all panelists were competent and esteemed experts who were “neutral” with regard to the candidates.

Read also: Elections body criticized over debate confusion

The panelists will sign a pact promising to keep the debate questions secret ahead of the event to ensure a fair debate, among other ethical points.

The panelists were to be sequestered on Sunday until the beginning of the debate.

The KPU will organize three televised presidential debates and two vice presidential debates through early February 2024.

Crucial issues

The first debate will center on law, human rights, governance, corruption, democracy and tolerance.

Of these topics, corruption looms large amid a series of recent graft scandals, some of which have involved members of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration.

Notably, former Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chief Firli Bahuri was named a suspect in an extortion case last month. The commission and its leadership have been mired in controversy since Firli took charge in 2019, around the same time the Jokowi administration and lawmakers passed a 2019 amendment to the KPK Law that defanged the agency.

Read also: Chief Justice demoted over Gibran ruling

Activists have also sounded alarms over the state of the nation’s democracy, particularly following a controversial Constitutional Court ruling that carved out an exception to candidate age requirements that allowed President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka to run for vice president.

Strengthening democracy

All three candidate pairs, according to their election manifestos, share a commitment to strengthening Indonesian democracy, human rights and the nation’s fight against graft.

Anies and his running mate, National Awakening Party (PKB) chair Muhaimin Iskandar, said that they would push for legal reform in legislative practices, law enforcement and corruption eradication, including by restoring the KPK’s independence.

The pair said they would strengthen human rights agencies and would “resolve past rights abuse cases”, while also providing compensation and social reparations for the victims.

Similarly, Ganjar, who is running with Coordinating Political, Legal and Security affairs Minister Mahfud MD, has put legal reform high on the priority list, including ensuring that law enforcement authorities are free of corruption.

Ganjar’s camp also says it wants to bring about a more substantive democracy by maintaining civil liberties, open discourse and a free press.

Meanwhile, Prabowo’s camp says it will seek to maintain a free press and freedom of speech in academic settings, as well as uphold human rights and eliminate discrimination against vulnerable groups, such as women, children and migrant workers.

Prabowo and Gibran have said they will strengthen the KPK.

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