Second presidential debate to put spotlight on Gibran

Gibran has been notably avoiding public debates since announcing his vice presidential bid alongside frontrunner Prabowo Subianto, casting doubt on his readiness to take the national stage and for the nation’s second-most senior position.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Three 2024 vice presidential candidates (from left) Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Mahfud MD and Muhaimin Iskandar draw their unique numbers on the ballot at the General Elections Commission headquarters in Jakarta on Nov. 14, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

December 22, 2023

JAKARTA – Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and also the youngest among the vice presidential candidates, will be in the spotlight as he faces his rivals in Friday’s prime-time election debate that will focus on economic matters.

There has been a lot of anticipation surrounding Friday’s debate as it will see Gibran, the 36-year old mayor of Surakarta, Central Java, participate in such a forum for the first time and go head-to-head with more experienced rivals Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD and seasoned politician Muhaimin Iskandar.

Unlike the two other candidates, Gibran has been notably avoiding public debates since announcing his vice presidential bid alongside frontrunner Prabowo Subianto in late October, casting doubt on his readiness to take the national stage and for the nation’s second-most senior position.

Analysts said that following last week’s heated first debate among the three presidential candidates, it was inevitable that Friday’s debate would see Gibran taking more heat than the other two candidates.

“Mahfud and Muhaimin will likely go after Gibran knowing that he is the one with the least experience in public debate to slow his and Prabowo’s campaign momentum,” analyst Agung Baskoro said.

The latest opinion polls conducted during the first week of campaigning, have placed Prabowo comfortably ahead of his opponents, leaving Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan battling for a runoff spot.

But Friday’s debate can give Gibran, culinary businessman turned politician, the opportunity to rise from his underdog status given that issues of the economy are not Mahfud or Muhaimin’s strong suit.

Read also: Each camp claims victory in first presidential debate

Prior to entering politics, Gibran led a successful entrepreneurial career, having run various food businesses, including a catering firm Chilli Pari, and Markobar, a chain selling martabak, a sweet or savory pancake popular in Indonesia.

Gibran had spent some years studying at Orchid Park Secondary School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Management Development Institute of Singapore.

“With education and experience in business, Gibran should have more ammunition to beat, if not, match his rivals. His remaining challenge will be whether he can deliver his arguments,” Agung said.

The campaign team of Prabowo-Gibran has expressed their confidence in Gibran’s first appearance at the upcoming high-stakes debate, saying that they are not worried because Gibran will be playing to his strengths.

“Gibran has experience in the topic, even though it’s only within the scope of [Surakarta],” said campaign team member Budiman Sudjatmiko, adding that experts in the team have “given him some insights on how his performance in Surakarta can be projected to the national level.”

Originally, the second debate was supposed to see the vice presidential candidates sparring over issues relating to defense, security and international relations, while the third debate, scheduled on Jan. 7, would feature the presidential candidates debating the economy, investment and trade.

The topics for the dates, however, were swapped by the General Elections Commission (KPU) less than a week before the first debate on Dec. 12, prompting speculation that the poll body was attempting to shield Gibran from attacks by his more experienced opponents on certain topics.

Read also: VP candidates gear up for second debate

Until a week before the first debate, there was also still confusion surrounding the debate format, particularly after the KPU implied that it would scrap the vice presidential debates for the February election.

Analysts said Friday’s debate will also provide Gibran a chance to prove that he is not a liability for Prabowo, who took heat from rivals in the inaugural debate last week over his decision to run with the President’s son despite public criticism.

In one exchange, presidential candidate Anies Baswedan asked Prabowo about how he felt when then Constitutional chief justice Anwar Usman, who is his running mate Gibran’s uncle, was found guilty of an ethics breach for his role in the court’s ruling that enabled Gibran’s VP candidacy despite not previously being eligible.

Upon hearing this, Gibran stood up from his chair in the audience section and gestured to his supporters to cheer on Prabowo, who was about to respond to the question from Anies.

Prabowo has also recently been in hot water over his remarks during a Gerindra event, during which he recalled his exchange with Anies and later mocked his opponent in front of party members and supporters.

“How do you feel, Mas Prabowo, about ethics?” Prabowo recalled while imitating Anies. “Ethics, ethics, ndasmu ethics,” he said, using a term in informal Javanese that is considered rude and insulting.

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