Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls face off in first election debate

By Kate Lamb

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s three presidential hopefuls will face off in the country’s first election debate on Tuesday, with candidates expected to tackle questions on law, human rights and rising corruption in the world’s third-largest democracy.

The first of five debates ahead of the February 2024 poll takes place as Defence Minister and former general Prabowo Subianto consolidates a 20-point lead in opinion surveys.

Prabowo is competing against former Central Java governor, Ganjar Pranowo and former education minister and Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan.

Tuesday’s televised debate will span the topics of law, corruption, democracy, human rights, tolerance and governance, offering candidates the chance to detail their policies and address recent political controversies.

The debate comes after Indonesia’s constitutional court recently changed the age requirements for candidates, allowing outgoing President Joko Widodo’s 36-year-old son to join Prabowo as his running mate.

The ruling sparked fears about a democratic backslide and a return to the nepotism and patronage politics that characterised the decades-long rule of former president Suharto, who was forced from power in 1998.

Prabowo, who lost the presidency twice in 2014 and 2019, may also face questions about his role in alleged human rights abuses in Jakarta and East Timor, which he has always denied.

Anies, who critics say courted Islamist groups for political gain to secure his win in the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, could be questioned on “identity politics”. Ganjar may be asked to address his handling of a controversial andesite mine and cement factory in his province.

Activists say all three candidates should outline how they plan to address rising corruption, particularly after a 2019 revision of the law on the anti-corruption body curtailed its powers.

Six cabinet ministers have been implicated in corruption cases during the administration of President Joko Widodo, with Transparency International’s 2022 corruption index showing the country slid four points to 34.

(Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)